Cop who pepper-sprayed Arab MK during melee won’t face charges
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Cop who pepper-sprayed Arab MK during melee won’t face charges

Ayman Odeh accuses Justice Ministry panel of ‘whitewashing’ incident at Umm al-Hiran demolition

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. (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. (Courtesy/Arab Joint List)

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department on Thursday closed its investigation into an officer who pepper-sprayed the chairman of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh, during the demolition of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran in January 2017.

The investigatory panel will not press charges against the officer over the violence, with Hebrew reports saying the probe found his behavior to be appropriate in light of the heated nature of the protest.

The decision was decried by Odeh, who slammed the Justice Ministry unit for consistently failing to prosecute officers on claims of excessive force.

“Once again, the Police Internal Investigations Department excels in whitewashing and fails in bringing police officers to trial over violence against civilians,” said Odeh in a tweet.

In November, Odeh tweeted footage filmed by an Al Jazeera cameraman, saying it proved police lied about using force against him and other demonstrators during the protests.

Israeli policemen clash with a Bedouin man following a protest against home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Odeh said at the time he was attempting to reach the village to check for casualties after hearing gunshots, but was stopped by policemen. The video shows police arguing with Odeh. An officer is then seen stepping forward and spraying him in the face.

Odeh falls back, apparently in pain. According to Hadashot news, additional footage then shows police hurling a stun grenade at the lawmaker. Odeh was later injured in the head, and claims to have been hit by a rubber bullet.

In November, nine police officers were questioned by the PIID under caution on suspicion they helped cover up the alleged assault on Odeh.

The Umm al-Hiran demolition also saw police fatally shoot a resident — Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an — after he rammed into officer Erez Levi, killing him.

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

Police officers and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan initially claimed it was an act of Islamic State-inspired terrorism, but footage that later emerged of the incident cast doubt on the assertion.

The State Attorney’s Office in May 2018 closed an investigation into the incident, saying it could not determine whether Abu Al-Qia’an had committed an act of terrorism, after reviewing the entirety of investigation materials. The investigation led by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan determined that officers who shot Abu Al-Qia’an moments before his car ran into officer Levi were not suspected of a criminal offense, and acted legally when they opened fire. No charges were pressed against them.

“Closing the case against police officers who were suspected of attacking me, and more than a year and a half after the incident,” said Odeh on Thursday, “is troubling and proves there is no real intention to investigate what really happened on that terrible day — not on my case, and certainly not in the case of Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an.”

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