Amid a pitched debate over the deadly shooting of a Bedouin man who was driving a car that struck and killed a policeman last month, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested Wednesday that the incident could have been avoided had Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an followed officers’ instructions.
The episode took place in the early morning of January 18, when police arrived to demolish houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, which the state is seeking to remove in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.
As officers converged on the village, Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, a teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, telling friends that he did not wish to witness its destruction.
Soon afterward, the vehicle rammed into a group of officers, killing police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi. Abu Al-Qia’an was fatally shot by police.
Responding to a Joint (Arab) List proposal to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the incident, Erdan told the Knesset Wednesday that Abu Al-Qia’an’s behavior made police believe he was carrying out an attack.
“Abu Al-Qia’an was driving with his headlights off, didn’t listen to the officers and started to accelerate,” Erdan said. “These things didn’t leave the police with any uncertainty over his intentions.”
Video footage that emerged in the hours after the incident showed that the officers fired before Abu Al-Qia’an accelerated, and that, contrary to police assertions, the car’s lights were on.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, police and Erdan asserted that Abu Al-Qia’an was a nationalistically motivated terrorist, inspired by the Islamic State group.
Although he subsequently admitted it was “possible” he was mistaken, Erdan said he would only apologize if a report by the Justice Ministry’s Internal Police Internal Investigations Department showed that to be the case.
According to reports in Hebrew-language media last month, the investigation has found no evidence to support the claim that the incident was a terror attack, and also determined that police officers did not act according to protocol. It was also reported that officers shot at one another and almost caused a friendly fire accident.
Proposing the bill to establish a parliamentary inquiry, Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh, himself injured during the Umm el-Hiran demolitions, said Wednesday that only an independent investigation could be trusted to provide an objective presentation of the facts.
“We are demanding to know who made the decision to employ violence to evacuate the village, who made the decision to carry out the operation during the dark, who shot and killed Abu Al-Qia’an, who prevented him from receiving medical treatment, and who decided to immediately blame Abu Al-Qia’an and the residents of Umm el-Hiran.” Odeh said from the plenum podium.
Erdan said that the investigation was ongoing and that he would not offer any further comment on the incident until the probe was closed. He did, however, criticize Odeh for “using the incident to incite lies and hatred and to create a divide between communities.”
On Monday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel expressed the first apology by an Israeli official over the incident.
“If there was a mistake in Umm al-Hiran, I apologize deeply,” said Ariel during a visit to the Bedouin city of Rahat. “We will wait for the results of the Police Internal Investigations Department probe, but there are voices attesting to grievous mistakes that were made — I want to pass on my apologies to the family.”