Denying cover-up, former police chief insists killed Bedouin man was terrorist

Contradicting Netanyahu, Roni Alsheich says 2017 incident, in which law enforcement has been accused of suppressing evidence, was ‘certainly a terrorist attack’

Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks during a Channel 12 TV conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)
Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks during a Channel 12 TV conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Flash90)

Former police chief Roni Alsheich reiterated his position Thursday that a Bedouin man shot dead in 2017 was carrying out a terror attack at the time of his death.

His assertions came days after a TV report alleged that police helped cover up the fact that Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an was found not to have been a terrorist, in an attempt to protect the image of law enforcement agencies.

Abu al-Qia’an was shot dead by police in January 2017 after his car plowed into policemen who had come to demolish homes in his unrecognized village, killing officer Erez Levi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week apologized to Abu al-Qia’an’s family, saying that while police had insisted he was a terrorist, “it turned out that he wasn’t.”

Alsheich told Channel 13 news Thursday: “This incident cannot in any way be interpreted as a misunderstanding. The policemen were a short distance from a standing vehicle, from a person who refused to obey their instructions, and then he went for a ride.

“I am sticking to my position because it was a deliberate ramming. I do not know anyone who commits a deliberate ramming and it is not a terrorist attack. I do not know what the background is, and if he is a [Palestinian] nationalist, but it is certainly a terrorist attack,” he said.

The incident occurred when officers arrived to oversee the demolition of houses 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.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an. (Courtesy)

Netanyahu publicly apologized last week for the Israeli government’s claim that Abu al-Qia’an was a terrorist.

The apology was the first acknowledgement by a government official that the characterization was wrong, despite a wealth of evidence early on indicating that Abu al-Qia’an was not a terrorist and had not attacked the police.

It came a day after a Channel 12 report accused police and prosecutors of a cover-up in various cases, including the shooting, to avoid tarnishing law enforcement while it was 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.”

Abu al-Qia’an’s relatives said Netanyahu’s apology was insufficient, had come too late, and demanded legal action against former top law enforcement officials, including Alsheich.

“He [Netanyahu] needs to come here and ask forgiveness from Yaqoub’s mother and children,” his brother Ahmad Abu al-Qia’an told the Walla news site.

“Alsheich behaved aggressively. His decision [to label Abu al-Qia’an a terrorist] was swift and hasty,” Ahmad Abu al-Qia’an added.

Israeli police stand next Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an’s vehicle in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

Alsheich, who was the police commissioner responsible for investigating Netanyahu in his corruption cases, on Thursday said, “Netanyahu should have apologized to the policeman’s family,” rather than Abu al-Qia’an’s.

After Netanyahu delivered his apology, the Israel Police 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 Levi, 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.

Last Thursday, Economy Minister Amir 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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