Family of Bedouin man killed by cops demands former top officials stand trial

Family of Bedouin man killed by cops demands former top officials stand trial

Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an’s relatives hit out at former police chief, minister, top prosecutor for allegedly suppressing info that he wasn’t a terrorist

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

The family of a Bedouin man shot dead by police in 2017 demanded legal action against former top law enforcement officials, for allegedly concealing information showing that claims he was a terrorist were incorrect.

Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an’s relatives also said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology this week for labeling him a terrorist wasn’t sufficient, and had come too late.

“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 on Saturday.

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 unrecognized Negev village of Umm al-Hiran — was a terrorist.

The apology was the first acknowledgement of wrongdoing by a government official, 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 some to question Netanyahu’s motivations in issuing the apology.

Then-public security minister Gilad Erdan and then-police chief Roni Alsheikh attend a ceremony at police headquarters in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ahmad Abu al-Qia’an called for Ronni Alsheikh and Gilad Erdan, who were respectively police commissioner and public security minister at the time of the shooting, to be tried for calling his brother a terrorist and alleging that he belonged to the Islamic State.

“Alsheikh behaved aggressively. His decision [to label Abu al-Qia’an a terrorist] was swift and hasty,” Ahmad Abu al-Qia’an said. “He and Erdan need to apologize and stand trial.”

He also alleged that then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan tried to cover up for police, based on the Channel 12 report.

“He helped them cover up, I don’t know why… The Shin Bet people, who are usually honest, said from the start this isn’t a terror attack,” Abu al-Qia’an said.

He reiterated the family’s call for his brother’s children to be compensated.

Ahmad Abu al-Qia’an (Screen capture: Walla news)

Ra’ed Abu al-Qia’an, Yaqoub’s nephew, said Netanyahu’s apology was a “first step.”

“The prime minister needed to listen to us from the beginning. Only when he comes to the family and says ‘I apologize’ will we believe it,” he said.

He added that the family intended to take legal steps against Alsheikh, Nitzan and Erdan, who is now Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“These are the three whitewashers who slandered [Yaqoub] and showed how racist the policies are. In their case, even if they apologize, I won’t accept it,” Ra’ed Abu al-Qia’an said.

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.

Shai Nitzan attends a conference in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2019. (Flash90)

On 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.

Peretz said he welcomed Netanyahu’s apology, as well as President Reuven Rivlin’s, but distanced himself from the premier’s accusations that police and prosecutors had only called Abu Al-Qia’an a terrorist to harm Netanyahu.

He announced that he and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn had decided to form a team to weigh financial aid to the family.

Yaqoub’s widow, Amal, welcomed Peretz’s words as well as Netanyahu’s apology and said Peretz was the first one to visit the family after almost four years. Peretz, a member of the Labor Party, was not in the government at the time of the incident.

On Wednesday, Yaqoub’s son Dr. Hussam Abu al-Qia’an said his family had been homeless since the January 2017 incident.

Abu al-Qia’an was shot by police officers in January 2017, when officers arrived to oversee the demolition of houses in his home village of 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 his home 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 at the scene, who assumed he had rammed the officers intentionally, and died.

Israeli police stand next to Yaqoub Abu al-Quia’an’s vehicle in Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

After the incident, Alsheikh and Erdan called Abu al-Qia’an a terrorist and alleged that he belonged to the Islamic State. A report earlier this year, however, revealed that the only purported evidence for Abu al-Qi’an’s terror ties were Islamic educational materials in his house.

The state prosecution on Wednesday took issue with parts of Netanyahu’s speech, in which he accused them of branding Abu al-Qia’an a terrorist. The claim is a “lie,” the prosecution said.

Family and friends challenged Israeli authorities’ claim that Abu al-Qia’an was a terrorist as soon as it was made.

After Netanyahu delivered his statement, the Israel Police on Tuesday night 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.”

Aaron Boxerman and AP contributed to this report.

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