9 police officers questioned over attack on Arab lawmaker at Bedouin site
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9 police officers questioned over attack on Arab lawmaker at Bedouin site

Investigators suspect members of the force are covering for each by not identifying who pepper-sprayed MK Ayman Odeh during January confrontation

Arab Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh was injured during a protest against house demolitions in the Negev town of Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017.  Here he is holding the sponge-tipped bullet that allegedly injured him. (Courtesy/Arab Joint List)
Arab Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh was injured during a protest against house demolitions in the Negev town of Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017. Here he is holding the sponge-tipped bullet that allegedly injured him. (Courtesy/Arab Joint List)

Nine police officers were questioned under caution on suspicion they  helped cover up an alleged assault on an Arab lawmaker during a heated confrontation at an unrecognized Bedouin community in January of this year.

The officers, including a superintendent, were questioned Tuesday night by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department.

Some are suspected of disrupting an investigation into the incident because they didn’t report that Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh was injured in the clash and also of lying during other probes into the events, the Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday. The superintendent was released to three days of house arrest, while the other cops were released without conditions.

Joint (Arab) List party chairman MK Ayman Odeh in the Knesset, November 01, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New footage published last week of a deadly home demolition in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran earlier in the year shows police pepper-spraying Odeh in the face.

Odeh tweeted the footage filmed by an Al Jazeera cameraman, saying it proved police lied about using force against him and other demonstrators during protests that erupted the day after a local man was shot dead by police in what the force called a terrorist car-ramming, which left one police officer dead.

In light of the new evidence, the Investigations Department was told to take another look at the events surrounding the death of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, who was slain by police in Umm al-Hiran during a nighttime incident in which his car drove into officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Lev1, 34.

Police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was killed in what was initially alleged to be a car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)

During their questioning the police officers were asked to identify the officer seen in the video spraying Odeh but said they were unable to since there were many officers from different units deployed on the scene. PID investigators suspect that the police are covering for each other, the report said.

In a statement Odeh said that the delays in completing the investigation cast doubts on the sincerity of PID’s efforts to discover the truth of what really happened.

“We have no faith in the PID investigation and the fact that the police are only being investigated now, 10 months later, and only after the information that we uncovered, shows that PID isn’t at all interested in trying to uncover what happened in Umm Al-Hiran and is acting to cover up the police responsibility for the tragic death of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an and Erez Levi.”

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

Odeh demanded that police reveal all video footage from the events at Umm Al-Hiran.

“We will continue a determined campaign to uncover the truth,” he vowed.

The lawmaker, who appeared the morning after the clash with a bandage on his head, claims he was also hit with a rubber-tipped police bullet, but investigators did not question the officers about that allegation, according to the report.

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that rammed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

The incident was initially ruled terrorism, but authorities have since indicated that Abu Al-Qia’an likely lost control of the vehicle after being shot, and did not intentionally hit the officers. However, police on Tuesday said they maintain their belief that the ramming was deliberate.

In the video circulated last week Odeh is seen confronting a group of police when one of them sprays him in the face. Haaretz reported that the Investigations Department received the video in April but that the State Prosecution only asked to reopen an earlier probe of the incident last week in light of a document written by the Shin Bet internal security service.

At the time Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich accused the PID of having buried the document, which contained testimonies of the incident. The department denied the claim, saying it had only recently become aware of it.

Five other police officers also gave testimony on Tuesday evening, Haaretz said, all of whom are from Levi’s unit, tasked with enforcing land laws.

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