Thousands attend funeral in Umm al-Fahm

Arab teenager dies after allegedly being shot in head by police, raising outcry

Family of 17-year-old Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan say he was shot last week by officers; Justice Ministry says it cannot confirm veracity of claim

Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, 17, who died of gunshot wounds in Umm Al-Fahm, May, 2021. (Courtesy)
Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, 17, who died of gunshot wounds in Umm Al-Fahm, May, 2021. (Courtesy)

An Arab Israeli teenager who was shot in the head died on Wednesday, with his family charging that police were responsible for the gunfire.

Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, a 17-year-old high school student, died from his injuries at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. He had been shot in the head by live bullets after what his family says was an altercation with police.

“This poor, unarmed young man was killed for nothing, just because of the racist police,” Kiwan’s aunt Nadia, a resident of Umm al-Fahm, told The Times of Israel.

The Israel Police says that two officers fired at a car that ran into them near Umm al-Fahm on the day Kiwan was fatally wounded. But police say it is still unclear who fired the shots that killed him, or whether he was in the car that struck police.

According to police, officers called to the scene of a riot shot at “a passing car that rammed the commander and the officer, who miraculously sustained only light injuries.”

Israeli security forces spray protesters with skunk water during clashes in Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, on May 19, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

“Given the danger to their lives, the officers responded with gunfire toward the vehicle, which fled the scene,” Dror Kahlon, a spokesperson for the Israel Police’s Menashe Division, said in a statement.

The car in question has yet to be located, although an investigation is ongoing, Kahlon said. He emphasized that police did not see any indication that Kiwan’s shooting and the police gunshots were connected.

Kiwan’s family tells an entirely different story. According to Nadia, who spoke to The Times of Israel on the family’s behalf, Kiwan’s friends had persuaded him to drive out to Mei Ami junction on Road 65 to watch a confrontation between demonstrators and police.

“He wasn’t participating in the protest. He had driven out with some friends and they were in a car close to Mei Ami junction. They were approached by the two police officers and they got scared and started to drive off. The officers opened fire at the car,” Nadia said.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department announced on Thursday that it had opened an investigation into the shooting at the car, but also said it could not say whether Kiwan died from police gunfire.

While the PIID is intended to investigate police misconduct, left-wing politicians and Arab Israelis have increasingly criticized the division in recent months, charging its investigations rarely result in indictments.

MK Ahmad Tibi, who leads the Ta’al faction in the mostly Arab Joint List party, condemned the shooting.

“Has there been a statement by police on the matter? Or condemnations from Jewish parliamentarians?” Tibi asked rhetorically.

The conservative Islamist Ra’am party, led by maverick Arab Israeli politician Mansour Abbas, said in a statement: “Ra’am calls on the government and the police to place the killer policeman and those who gave him the orders on trial.”

ألمٌ كبير يعتصر قلوبنا بعد استشهاد ابن أم الفحم البار، الطالب الثانوي محمد محمود كيوان، وذلك بعد اسبوع من إصابته بالرصاص…

Posted by ‎يوسف جبارين – Yousef T. Jabareen‎ on Thursday, May 20, 2021

As a sign of mourning, Kiwan’s hometown Umm al-Fahm went on strike on Thursday. Shops shuttered in the city’s thoroughfares and thousands of residents attended a mass funeral in the evening where the crowd chanted: “We weren’t born to live in submission, we were born to live free.”

Mourners march during the funeral of Mohammad Kiwan, 17, who succumbed to his wounds May 20, 2021, after being shot during confrontations with Israeli security forces last week, in the mostly Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

In a statement declaring the strike, the Umm al-Fahm municipality also told the city’s young people not to clash with police following the funeral.

“Do not be drawn by provocations from police and authorities,” the statement said.

Dozens gathered in Umm Al-Fahm to protest Kiwan’s death on Wednesday night. Police said they dispersed them with tear gas after some demonstrators shot fireworks at officers.

“We won’t be quiet about this. We won’t remain silent. We’ll take them to court until we put them away,” Nadia Kiwan told The Times of Israel.

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