Court orders Abu al-Qiyan's body be returned
High Court of Justice instructs police to release body of Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan to family despite state's concern over 'current volatile public atmosphere'; Abu al-Qiyan ran over and killed a policeman, before being killed himself by officers, during a violent protest in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran last Wednesday; dispute remains over whether his driving stemmed from intent to kill, or from a bullet fired at his knee by policemen.
The High Court of Justice accepted on Monday a petition submitted by the family of Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan—who ran over and killed police officer Erez Levi last Wednesday—ordering that his body be returned for a burial.
The incident came during protests over the evacuation of illegal homes in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. The state had opposed returning the body, stating that doing so and allowing Abu al-Qiyan's family to hold a funeral service without any limitations could cause "a serious public disruption."
At present, the details surrounding al-Qiyan's actions leading up to his death are under heated dispute: while the police claim Abu al-Qiyan was a terrorist who deliberately sought to attack the police force with his car, protestors and those close to Abu al-Qiyan deny that he was not a terrorist, positing instead that he had been shot by policemen in the knee while he was behind the wheel, causing him to press down on the accelerator and swerve with his car into a group of the policemen just metres away.
The court decision was reached by a two-to-one majority. Justices Yitzchak Amit and Uri Shoham decided in favor of the family's petition, while Justice Noam Solberg opposed it due to security concerns.
Justice Amit wrote in the court's decision that "We hereby instruct the police to release the body of the deceased to the family or a representative on its behalf. In order to prevent any further disputes, we declare that the funeral take place tomorrow during the daytime and not the nighttime." The decision further said that if the police deems it necessary, the family will make sure to have ushers to maintain the peace during the funeral.
"I will also mention the obvious: the funeral will be held in the Negev, in Israeli territory. The deceased's family belongs to the Bedouin community, whose sons are law-abiding Israeli citizens, some of whom serve in security forces. There hasn't been a single voice from within this community heard to be praising a terrorist vehicular attack, and the family and Bedouin community emphatically condemn this phenomenon."
Solberg's dissent stated that "At present, no satisfactory funeral arrangements have been made. We are dealing with human lives here. It is as simple as that. For this reason I chose to reject the petition."
A video of the incident and a forensic report on the matter have both raised serious questions about the police's version of events. Aerial footage shows that police opened fire while Abu al-Qiyan was travelling slowly. It remains unclear as to whether the shots were fired at al-Qiyan or in the air. Only after shots were fired however did he suddenly accelerate and run over Levi.
The post-mortem performed at the Institute of Forensic Medicine found that a bullet wounded Abu al-Qiyan in the knee that had pressed down on the gas pedal. According to some assessments, this may have been what caused him to accelerate.
The state's response to the petition said that the day after the event, the police had been prepared to turn the body over to the Abu al-Qiyan's family but only on condition that certain criteria were be met. Among them was agreeing on a set time for the funeral, limiting the number of participants and refraining from having any political speeches. The state said that the family had refused to abide by these conditions.
The state further claimed that the police are in possession of evidence that the incident was in fact a vehicular terrorist attack. "Considering the current volatile public atmosphere, a funeral attended by a mass of people could lead to a real disruption of public order," the state wrote. "The Israel Police estimates that extremist entities might use the funeral to incite people while causing disruptions that could result in injury."
Prior to the court's convening, hundreds of protestors, many from the Arab population—including MKs from the Joint List—demonstrated the planned demolition of houses in Umm al-Hiran and the Arab town of Qalansawe. Among other chants, the protestors yelled "No to the blood-stained government" and "Hand over the body of the shahid."
In related news, an indictment has been issued against two Bedouin brothers accused of attacking police officers during last week's protest at Umm al-Hiran, where Levi and Abu al-Qiyan were killed.