State attorney closes Umm al-Hiran case
Chief prosecutor Nitzan closes investigation into police's conduct during riots in Bedouin community last year, states shooting of resident justified because cops subjectively felt threatened, inconclusive but also irrelevant whether ramming that claimed the life of policeman was intentional or not.
The state prosecutor added that the question of whether Abu al-Qiyan had intended to carry out a terrorist attack could not be answered with a high degree of certainty, but that such a determination was unnecessary to decide whether to launch a criminal investigation against any of the officers involved.
In the incident at the heart of the matter took place on the night between January 17 and 18, 2017. Security forces were operating in the village to evacuate residences deemed to have been illegally constructed.
During the operation, officers feared that a driver that drew near to them—Abu al-Qiyan—was about to run them over, and therefore opened fire at him. He was hit, lost consciousness and his car ran over policeman Erez Levi. Abu al-Qiyan himself later succumbed to his wounds and passed away.
The police initially claimed the vehicle was traveling rapidly and without its headlights turned on, and insisted that the driver was a "terrorist active in the Islamic Movement, whose affiliation with the Islamic State was being examined."
Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan echoed the statement, quickly accusing that an "Islamic Movement terrorist raced at our forces in order to kill as many officers as he could before the evacuation began."
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, for his part, said at the time, "I called the driver a 'terrorist' because all signs pointed to a car attack, and no findings contradicted that assumption."
The findings of a Police Internal Investigations Department's inquiry into the matter published a month a later, however, pointed to serious failings in the police's conduct during the incident, and found no evidence of Abu al-Qiyan's intentions to carry out a terror attack.
Moreover, the inquiry's findings showed with a high degree of likelihood that even the warning shots fired at him were not justified by any operational necessity. The inquiry also pointed at the supposedly disproportionate fire directed at the resident, which failed to take into account the positions of other officers on the scene—causing policemen to exchange friendly fire.
The Internal Investigations Department's inquiry began the day of the incident, Nitzan's statement said, and dealt both with the shooting directed at Abu al-Qiyan and the medical treatment he received thereafter.
The actions of the officers involved, State Attorney Nitzan said, which were purportedly motivated by a fear to their lives, were not beyond the realm of reason vis-à-vis legal justification to use firearms.
In his decision, the state attorney also commented on the question of whether Abu al-Qiyan hit the officer intentionally as part of a "terrorist attack" or merely lost control of his car after being fired upon.
"The collected investigative materials reflect certain inconclusive indications that could be taken both ways," he said. "Shin Bet, which canvassed the scene in the first hours following the incident, decided not to pursue the investigation while clarifying it could not determine whether the incident constituted an attack or not."
Nevertheless, the country's chief prosecutor forwarded to Commissioner Alsheikh and head of the police's disciplinary department several issues to be examined in a disciplinary context, including to review whether the force was adequately prepared for such a complex task, whether professional fault could be found in the shooting officers' conduct, whether medical attention the deceased received was faulty and certain changes and inconsistencies in the accounts of the officers involved.
'Police murdered Yaqoub'
Morad Abu al-Qiyan, a relative of the deceased, commented to say, "They can decide whatever they want. We're in a state of inequality. The incident left behind nothing but grief. We regret everything that happened and are certain it wasn't a terror attack, something both the state and police know as well."
The investigation, he concluded before thanking those who stood by his family's side, was meant simply as a cover.
Head of the Umm al-Hiran residents' committee Raad Abu al-Qiyan added, "We didn't expect much. The State Attorney's Office is part of the state and, unfortunately, did not reach the truth as far as the murder is concerned."
"Yaqoub was fired upon and left bleeding and wounded in the field. We will not relent and demand the investigation be reopened," he declared. "It doesn't stand to reason that no one is guilty. Cops acted improperly. I saw what happened, we saw how people were beaten up. It's racism, and the timing of the announcement will scuttle the evacuation agreement with residents."
"Police murdered Yaqoub," was his final conclusion.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked commented on the decision at an event in the northern region, and threw her support behind the State Attorney's Office's conclusions. "I know very thorough work was carried out in both Internal Investigations and the State Attorney's Office," she explained.
Nitzan himself participated in the event as well, and add, "We left no stone unturned because we wanted to be convinced every conceivable aspect was reviewed. At the end of the day, due to the matter's sensitivity, it was my own decision."
"We found no cause to charge any of the officers," he continued. "It's a regrettable incident, but the cops did their duty as they perceived it."
When asked about not ruling out the possibility it was a terror attack, Nitzan replied it was not his role to determine that. "It's also irrelevant to the question of whether the officers acted lawfully or not, because in their subjective perceptions they were of the opinion it was a terror attack, or at least that cannot be ruled out," he said.
Erdan: Incident should not leave gaping wound in societyMinister Erdan welcomed the State Attorney's Office's decision. "Now that it has been determined the officers acted impeccably, the Shin Bet and police investigation should be resumed and the public should be presented with all its findings, to avoid the events at Umm al-Hiran leaving a gaping wound in Israeli society," a statement on behalf of the minister said.
The Israel Police welcomed the State Attorney's Office's decision, according to which "the policeman acted lawfully and finding were wholly congruent with the initial inquiry on the field by the police."
Now that the Internal Investigation's inquiry concluded, the police added, it will be able to resume its own inquest into the matter.