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Autopsy finds Bedouin man killed by police was shot twice from behind — report

Initial results show Sanad Salaam al-Harbad suffered gunshot wounds to his back and buttocks, though cop who opened fire insists Rahat resident was shooting at security forces

Police at the scene where Sanad Salaam al-Harbad was killed as police special forces came under fire in Rahat, southern Israel, March 15, 2022. (Flash90)
Police at the scene where Sanad Salaam al-Harbad was killed as police special forces came under fire in Rahat, southern Israel, March 15, 2022. (Flash90)

A Bedouin man who was shot dead earlier this week by police was hit with two bullets, both of which struck him from behind, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

Police said they opened fire when Sanad Salaam al-Harbad aimed a gun at them at point-blank range during the firefight in the southern Negev city of Rahat.

But the al-Harbad family has disputed the police account. Al-Harbad, who works as an electrical contractor in the wealthy central city of Ra’anana, had merely left his home to drive up north when police showed up, according to his family.

Initial results from the autopsy showed that al-Harbad was shot in the back and buttocks, Kan reported. Examinations have not so far been able to tell at what range al-Harbad was shot.

The results of the autopsy will be handed over the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, which has launched a probe of the incident.

Early Tuesday morning, Israeli forces in civilian clothes and the Shin Bet security service conducted a raid in Rahat to arrest two Palestinian suspects. According to a Border Police spokesperson, two armed men — not the suspects — opened fire on the officers during the raid.

Police said a third man, al-Harbad, aimed a gun at them at point-blank range during the firefight. Officers shot and killed him before he could open fire, according to police. The other two shooters fled, police said.

Later Tuesday, the officer suspected of carrying out the shooting insisted to investigators that al-Harbad had shot at the undercover force and that he felt in life-threatening danger when he opened fire.

“If I had not acted the way I did I would not be here today,” he told internal investigators, according to Kan.

However, Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Suheiban told The Times of Israel that al-Harbad “had nothing to do with the people the police were pursuing. He may not have even known they were police, as they were dressed in civilian clothes, and then they shot him.”

Suheiban added that al-Harbad’s family lived in an area in which Bedouin families were violently fighting over land. But he was not known to authorities to be involved in organized crime, the mayor said.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the Israel Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

On Tuesday evening, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev provided a third account of the shooting that did not mention the alleged armed clashes at all.

“During an operation against criminal elements in Rahat, a lone policeman came across a local man holding a gun aimed at him. The policeman shot the resident in self-defense,” Barlev wrote on Twitter, adding that the police officer behaved “as expected of him.”

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai defended the officers’ actions on Tuesday afternoon. Besides al-Harbad, two Palestinians were killed in clashes with Border Police on Tuesday morning in the West Bank.

“Officers were forced to return fire against the threats. As a result, three suspects were killed, with [al-Harbad] having apparently aimed a gun at them,” said Shabtai, referring to al-Harbad. “These activities are a sharp and clear message to anyone who seeks to harm our forces.”

While the PIID boasts a high conviction rate in cases where its lawyers head to court, critics have noted that the vast majority of investigations are closed without charges.

Arab Israelis have seen a sharp spike in violence and organized crime over the past few years, with homicides reaching a record 126 in 2021, according to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit. The current government has vowed to put an end to the crime wave and confiscate the many thousands of illegal weapons in Arab communities.

For years, Arab Israeli mayors and activists have accused the police of failing to crack down on criminals.

Aaron Boxerman and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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