Probe closed into policeman who shot and killed Arab teen in car during riots

Internal Investigations Department says not enough evidence to continue case of Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, killed during May 2021 unrest; father decries decision to forgive ‘murder’

Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, 17, who died of gunshot wounds in Umm Al-Fahm, May, 2021. (Courtesy)
Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, 17, who died of gunshot wounds in Umm Al-Fahm, May, 2021. (Courtesy)

The Police Internal Investigations Department said Thursday that it had closed a probe into the death of an Arab Israeli teenager who was shot by a police officer last year, citing lack of evidence.

The death of Muhammad Mahameed Kiwan, 17, came as rioting and clashes between Jews and Arabs had spread across the country in the worst ethnic violence the country had seen for many years. The unrest came against the background of conflict with the Gaza Strip and tension surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

On May 23, 2021, an officer shot Kiwan in the head as he sat in a car near the Arab town of Umm Al-Fahm.

Kiwan’s family maintains that he was an innocent bystander, while the officer involved claims he thought the vehicle was being used for a ramming attack and that is why he opened fire.

“It was found that under the circumstances, the shooting, in itself, was justified,” the PIID said in a statement, adding that it could not establish whether the manner in which it was carried out was problematic, and therefore closed the case.

“It took them a year and a half to abuse us,” Kiwan’s father, Mahmoud, told Channel 12 in response. “An officer shot a child and murdered him and they want us to believe in their justice system.”

Albert Nahas, an attorney representing the Kiwan family, immediately asked for the investigation materials so that he could file an appeal against the decision, the network reported.

Israeli security forces spray protesters with skunk water during clashes in Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, on May 19, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The PIID said that on the day the shooting happened there was “violent civil disobedience” at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65, during which fires were lit and rioters threw stones at passersby. When security forces arrived the rioters began to flee toward a parking lot.

“Muhammad Mahameed and two others got into a car, with Muhammad sitting next to the driver, and fled the location,” the statement said.

The PIID said that as it left the parking lot “the vehicle hit an officer, but despite this, continued at speed and even swerved in the direction of the [shooting police officer].”

It said that the officer, “who felt he was in the midst of a life-threatening incident and also believed it was a ramming attack, fired two shots at the car with the intention of stopping it.”

“One of the bullets penetrated the car and hit Muhammad’s head, leading to his regrettable death,” the statement said.

PIID said it had thoroughly investigated the incident and “after a comprehensive examination of the evidence and the totality of the circumstances, it was decided to close the case.”

The Mossawa Center, which advocates for Arab rights, said in a statement that 46 unarmed Arab citizens have been killed over the years by police officers and in only two cases were indictments filed. These, it said, “ended with ridiculous penalties.”

“This is about the easy trigger fingers of policemen who encounter Arab citizens,” it said, adding that the justice system was “failing in the fight against police violence.”

Days after Kiwan’s death, his family donated some of his organs for transplant to six patients, five of whom were Jewish.

His heart went to a 37-year-old man and his lungs to a 66-year-old man, with both transplants performed at Sheba Medical Center. His liver was given to another man, 69, at Beilinson Hospital. One lobe of his liver was transplanted into a 1-year-old boy at Schneider Children’s Hospital, one kidney went to a 16-year-old girl at Rambam Medical Center and another to a woman, 35, at Ichilov Hospital. Only the baby was Arab.

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