The Police Investigations Unit on Tuesday officially cleared officers of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of Kheir Hamdan, a 22-year-old Israeli Arab, last November in Kafr Kanna.
Hamdan was shot when he attacked a police vehicle with a knife after officers arrested a relative. Police said the officer fired warning shots and ordered Hamdan to drop the knife, aiming directly at him when he refused to obey. Hamdan’s family disputes the official account.
“The department for investigating the police has decided, according to the opinion of the state attorney, to close the case of the shooting by a riot policeman which caused the death of Kheir Hamdan,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
“This is by reason of lack of guilt.”
Footage of the incident showed Hamdan approaching the car and tapping on the window repeatedly with what appeared to be a knife. An officer then stepped out and shot Hamdan, who was walking away from the car. The shooting sparked a wave of protests in the towns of Turan, Shfaram and Fureidis, with masked rioters burning tires and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces.
According to the Police Investigations Unit, there is “not a drop of reasonable suspicion to accuse the officer who shot of anything criminal. He acted in the intensity of the moment, in a complex situation, and made a quick decision in an unfolding event that included life endangerment.”
Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, responded to the decision on Tuesday, saying it “gives a green light to the next murder of an Arab citizen by police.”
“Even in this serious case of killing, which was clearly recorded, the investigation unit finds ways to back up a crime committed by police,” the legal rights group said.
Hamdan’s father, Ra’uf Hamdan, called the decision “contemptible.”
“We are already working with our attorney Avigdor Feldman to appeal the decision to the state attorney and, if necessary, to the High Court of Justice,” Ra’uf Hamdan told the NRG news site.
“If it was possible, I would want them to receive the death penalty for what they did to my son,” he added.
Last month, police were reportedly slated to close the case on the Special Patrol Unit’s officers, but according to a Channel 10 news report, the announcement was withheld until after Israel’s Independence Day celebrations.
According to Channel 10, the policeman who pulled the trigger was never questioned under caution and has continued in his job since the shooting.
A man who was detained in the back of the police van at the time of the incident man backed up police’s claim that they felt their lives were in danger.
MK Dov Khenin of the Joint [Arab] List condemned the closing of the shooting case last month, saying in a statement they were manifestations of an unacceptable attitude toward Israel’s Arab population.
“There is a common denominator in the incidents in Kafr Kanna: A government that continues to not take Arab citizens into account,” Khenin said.
Meretz MK Issawi Frej said Tuesday the decision to close the case “spits in the eye of the law, of Israeli democracy and of Arab society.”