Photo Credit: Courtesy Israel Police
Vehicle Attack in Umm-al Hiran

by Andrew Friedman

Israeli State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan announced Tuesday that charges would not be filed against police officers accused of wrongdoing during an altercation in the unrecognized Bedouin encampment Umm al-Hiran in January 2017.

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“After in-depth study of the investigation material and the findings presented by the police investigations unit, the state prosecutor has decided to halt proceedings into deciding whether or not there is reasonable evidence of illegal actions on the part of police who were involved in the incident,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

The investigation stemmed from the shooting death of Ya’akub Musa Abu al-Qi’an, a school teacher and resident of Umm al-Hiran, during a pre-dawn raid on the encampment ahead of demolishing several illegally built structures. Israel Police Sergeant Major Erez Levi was also killed in the incident, allegedly when al-Qian’s out-of-control car hit him. MK Ayman Odeh (Joint Arab List) was also injured during protests against the demolition.

Following the incident, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh said officers shot Abu al-Qi’an when the latter tried to run them over in his pickup truck, citing Levi’s death as evidence of al-Qi’an’s murderous intent.

Following the incident, Erdan and Alsheikh both described the incident “as a terror attack perpetrated by a terrorist with ties to ISIS,” but later backtracked. Today’s statement also said that the evidence presented for review does not appear to indicate that police exceeded the boundaries of appropriate conduct given the circumstances at the scene, including a fear that lives were in clear and imminent danger.

Following the announcement, Israeli Arab leaders continued to insist that al-Qi’an had committed no wrongdoing and criticized government officials and the State Prosecutor’s Office for their conduct.

“Roni Alsheikh and Erdan brazenly lied,” said Odeh, the party chairman of the Joint Arab List Knesset faction, and demanded answers to questions that he said the Prosecutor’s decision had failed to address.

“How come police and security forces entered the village under the cover of darkness? How come they went in with guns drawn? Why did they let Ya’akub Musa Abu al-Qi’an bleed to death? Why did they shoot a Knesset member (Odeh) at point blank range?” Odeh asked.

The announcement comes a month after residents of Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement to dismantle their homes and move to Hura, a Bedouin city of 20,000 people located adjacent to their current location. It is hoped that deal will put an end to 50 years of legal battles between the village and the Israeli government. The site was founded by the Abu al-Qian family in 1956 after being resettled to the area by the IDF and the military government at the time; but in 2015 the Supreme Court ruled by a 2-1 margin that the village should be demolished.

According to Itamar Radai, an expert in ’20th century Palestinian history and the Arab-Israeli conflict’ at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, the village was settled on state lands in 1956, but most of the residents moved to Hura after the city was established in 1980. Regavim, an NGO that monitors population growth and illegal building in the Arab sector in Israel, says there were approximately 50 residents in the original settlement; the Israel Broadcast Corporation says there are currently 370 residents.

“They (the Israeli government) thought this issue could be solved with violence,” said Ra’ed Abu al-Qian, a resident of Umm al-Hiran. “But as we have seen, this led only to losses, tears and pain for everybody involved. When we (realized we were) out of options, went for a deal that would be good for our next generation.”

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