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Comptroller rules out probe of alleged police cover-up in Bedouin man’s killing

Acknowledging ‘deficiencies,’ Matanyahu Englman says he will look at accusation of police misconduct in annual report but won’t open separate investigation

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset, on December 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset, on December 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said Tuesday that he would not open a specific probe into the conduct of the State Attorney’s Office in the case of a Bedouin man shot to death by police in 2017, days after a TV report said the office had covered up the fact that he was not a terrorist in an attempt to protect the image of law enforcement agencies.

At the same time, Englman — writing in a letter to Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit and acting police commissioner Motti Gilad — said he would look into the issue and other allegations of police cover-ups his next annual report.

“After examining things in depth and considering various aspects of the issue, including the challenges facing the law enforcement system, I have decided not to conduct an individual investigation,” Engelman wrote.

Englman entered office last year with an eye toward reforming the office and moving away from investigations of corruption, including pursuing prosecution of public figures.

“I believe, and I am confident that I will find agreement among you, that in every public system there is a constant need and necessity to check, identify deficiencies and correct them,” he said.

Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an was shot by police officers in January 2017, when officers arrived to oversee the demolition of houses, including his own, in Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized Bedouin village that the state was razing to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

As officers converged on the village, Abu al-Qia’an, a 47-year-old teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, saying he could not bear to watch it be razed.

Soon afterward, Abu al-Qia’an was shot by police. He lost control of his car, which accelerated downhill and rammed into a group of officers, killing one of them. He was then shot again by police, who assumed he had rammed the officers intentionally, and died.

Netanyahu publicly apologized on Tuesday night for the Israeli government’s claim that Abu al-Qia’an — who was fatally shot by police during the demolition of his home in the Negev village — was a terrorist.

The apology was the first acknowledgement by a government official that the characterization was wrong, despite a wealth of evidence showing that Abu al-Qia’an was not a terrorist and had not attacked the police. It came a day after a TV report accused police and prosecutors of a cover-up in various cases, including the shooting, to avoid tarnishing their name while investigating Netanyahu. This led many to question Netanyahu’s motivations in issuing the apology, especially since he accused police and prosecutors of branding Abu al-Qia’an a terrorist in order “to harm me.”

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

After Netanyahu delivered his statement Tuesday, the Israel Police last week expressed regret for the first time over the death of Abu al-Qia’an, though it stopped short of apologizing or fully retracting the claim that he was a terrorist.

“We participate in the sorrow of the families over their loss,” a police spokesman said in a brief statement, referring to Abu al-Qia’an and Erez Levi, the officer who was run over by his car, calling their deaths a “regrettable incident.”

Then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan said in a series of media appearances this week that he never called Abu Al-Qia’an a terrorist and had certainly not backed up the police conclusion. He also said Netanyahu was “full of lies” for insinuating that police had tried to cover up their mistake in the Abu al-Qia’an case to harm him.

On Thursday, Economy Minister Peretz visited Abu al-Qia’an’s relatives to apologize on behalf of the government for branding him a terrorist, and promised to form a team that will decide on compensation for the family.

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