In the wake of the death of a policeman run over by a speeding car during violent clashes over house demolitions in a Bedouin village, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Thursday urged the attorney general to open an investigation into three Arab lawmakers who, he said, incited violence that led to the officer’s death.
Erdan penned a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit calling for a probe into public statements made by MKs Ayman Odeh, Jamal Zahalka and Hanin Zoabi, all of the Joint (Arab) List faction.
In response, Odeh, who heads the Joint List, called Erdan a “pathological liar.”
Erdan, along with other senior ministers and the police top brass, maintains that Wednesday’s fatal car ramming in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran was a terror attack. Relatives of the driver insist he was not an assailant, and was not in control of the vehicle when it smashed into police lines because he had been fatally shot. A police video appears to show officers firing on him before the vehicle accelerated into a group of police officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Levi.
The incident, Erdan wrote to Mandelblit, “did not occur in a vacuum and was not disconnected from the events that preceded it. Preceding that vile attack there was, for a long time, malicious and persistent incitement in which elected officials, members of Knesset, took part.”
The Arab lawmakers, Erdan wrote, “did not miss any opportunity to inflame and radicalize the position of the community’s residents ahead of the expected evacuation, and did not refrain even from clear calls for violence against the forces that were expected to take part in the evacuation.”
“The statements by those MKs,” Erdan continued, “before the event and even after it, clearly attest to the intention to incite the local residents to violence.”
In response to Erdan’s accusations, Odeh, who was in Umm al-Hiran during the demolititions and was injured in the clashes, said that it was the minister who was guilty of incitement.
“Minister Erdan is a serial inciter and a pathological liar,” he said in a statement. “We already called for a state commission yesterday. We have nothing to hide. We are demanding a comprehensive investigation into the chain of events, and especially into the conduct of the police for the violent and cruel evacuation of Umm al-Hiran.
“They are those responsible for the bloodshed that occurred in Umm al-Hiran. They are those who use the police force for political propaganda purposes,” the statement added.
Wednesday’s fatal incident occurred when Umm al-Hiran resident Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an rammed his vehicle into a group of cops carrying out a demolition order against homes in the unrecognized Negev village, killing policeman Levi, 34, a father of two from the city of Yavneh in central Israel, and wounding another policeman.
Abu Al-Qia’an, a father of 12 who was driving the vehicle, was shot and killed by police.
Police have accused Abu Al-Qia’an of jihadist sympathies and called the attack “terrorism” and “murder.” Residents and activists opposing the demolition orders rejected the accusation and insisted Abu Al-Qia’an was shot by police before the ramming, and was not in control of the vehicle when it slammed into Levi and other officers.
As proof of his incitement accusations, Erdan cited a recently published video clip from a 2015 event during which the accused MKs addressed a gathering of Umm al-Hiran residents. In the footage Zahalka is seen saying, in reference to the planned evacuation, “If blood is spilled then blood will be spilled” and then adding, “They need to know that on this matter, we are crazy. We, the Palestinian people, concerning us, we are ready to die before we are deported.”
Odeh is seen telling the residents, “On this matter we will go all the way, all the way. We have reached the breaking point. We will never accept the current situation. Never!”
Zoabi then declared that “this is a fight for our way of life, and on our land.”
Erdan said the video was only one example of many instances when the MKs incited to violence.
“I have no doubt that the murder of Levi was a direct outcome of the atmosphere that those inciting MKs created, and they need to bear the criminal responsibility for their actions.”
Erdan continued to defend the police’s version of events Thursday, telling Army Radio that “the unequivocal conclusion of the police” is that the car-ramming was a terror attack.
The family of Abu Al-Qia’an demanded Thursday that the Justice Ministry’s police internal affairs department launch an investigation into the circumstances of his death.
In response to Wednesday’s deadly clashes and home demolitions, Arab leaders called a daylong strike for Thursday, while hundreds of protesters in a half-dozen Israeli cities took to the streets Wednesday to denounce “the bloodshed and the destruction of homes in the Negev.”