Police minister insists 2017 Bedouin car-ramming was terrorism

Police minister insists 2017 Bedouin car-ramming was terrorism

Gilad Erdan says ‘outrageous’ Justice Ministry-led probe into deadly incident at Umm al-Hiran last year leaked details indicating it was an accident to media

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Public  Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Sunday doubled down on his claim that the Bedouin teacher who was killed last year during an operation to demolish illegally built homes in a southern village deliberately ran over and killed a police officer in an act of terrorism.

In an interview on Channel 12’s show “People,” Erdan hinted that the probe led by the Justice Ministry into the deadly incident at Umm al-Hiran was politically motivated and investigators undermined the investigation by leaking details indicating it was an accident to the media in an effort to sway public opinion.

“The Police Internal Investigations Department acted outrageously and in a way that determined the outcome of the investigation ahead of time,” he said. “I feel there is a high probability the incident was a terrorist attack.”

“They leaked things to the press in an effort to shape public opinion that there definitely was no terror attack there,” he said. “I don’t know if there were political considerations there, but [if they saw] the evidence that I have seen, the public might have a more balanced opinion.”

Immediately after the January 2017 incident, Erdan asserted that Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an was an IS-inspired terrorist who was shot only after accelerating his vehicle toward a group of police officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Lev.

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

But video footage that emerged in the hours after the incident showed the officers opened fire before Abu Al-Qia’an sped up, and that his car’s lights were on, contrary to police assertions.

A Channel 10 report at the time said Abu Al-Qia’an’s autopsy further revealed that a police bullet hit him in the right knee, shattering it, which may have caused the car to accelerate.

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that rammed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

A month later, Erdan appeared to walk back his terrorism claims, referring to “regrettable incident” in which “both a citizen and a police officer were killed.” Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel later issued a public apology for the “grievous mistakes that were made.”

The police internal investigation that concluded in August found that the officers had not acted criminally in shooting Abu Al-Qia’an.

But In November, state prosecutors demanded the investigation be re-opened, citing new unseen evidence.

State prosecutors asked the internal investigations department, which is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry, not police, to reopen its investigation of the incident after Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich accused it of burying a Shin Bet document containing eyewitness accounts of the incident.

The agency denied the claim, but reopened its investigation and re-questioned the officers at the scene.

The department’s revised investigation was submitted to the state attorney and attorney general in December, who have yet to decide whether to press charges against the officers who opened fire at Abu Al-Qia’an.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

Meanwhile, police have stuck to Erdan initial claim that Abu Al-Qia’an deliberately ran over and killed the officer. In November, police spokeswoman Meirav Lapidot told journalists in November that police “had reasons” for concluding the incident was terrorism, and said they had “never changed” their version.

The deadly January 18, 2017, incident occurred when police arrived to oversee the demolition of Bedouin homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran, which the state was seeking to remove in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

As officers converged on the town, 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, the vehicle with Abu Al-Qia’an at the wheel rammed into a group of officers. Abu Al-Qia’an was fatally shot by police.

Activists and others said police had used excessive force, pointing to what they claimed was institutionalized racism against Arabs, including Bedouin.

In response to Erdan’s remarks, Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh said the minister was blaming Arabs for crimes because he is “unable to do his job properly.”

“He uses lies in a serial fashion to incite against the Arab population, even when his lies are exposed,” Odeh said in a statement in which he called on Erdan to resign.

Earlier this month, residents of Umm al-Hiran agreed to a deal with the government to voluntarily leave their homes and move to a nearby town.

The evacuation and demolition of Umm al-Hiran scheduled for later in April will make way for the construction of a new Jewish town called Hiran.

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