Relatives of Bedouin man shot dead by police in 2017 sue for NIS 17 million
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Relatives of Bedouin man shot dead by police in 2017 sue for NIS 17 million

Lawsuit claims cop failures to blame for clash in a southern village, in which Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an and an officer died

The car of Yaqoub Abu al-Qia'an, following an incident initially claimed by police to be a terrorist attack, in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, southern Israel, January 18, 2017. Evidence subsequently came out that showed the incident was not a terrorist attack (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The car of Yaqoub Abu al-Qia'an, following an incident initially claimed by police to be a terrorist attack, in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, southern Israel, January 18, 2017. Evidence subsequently came out that showed the incident was not a terrorist attack (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The family of a Bedouin man shot dead during a controversial clash in 2017 are suing the Israel Police, claiming it was failures by the force that caused the deadly incident.

In a lawsuit filed at the Tel Aviv District Court, the wife and children of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an claimed NIS 17 million ($5 million), Haartez reported Wednesday.

Whereas police have continued to claim that Abu Al-Qia’an was killed while attempting a car-ramming attack against officers, killing one of them, investigations by the Shin Bet security organization and the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) have cast doubt on that theory.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Abu Al-Qia’an’s family by their attorney Moshe Karif, claims a series of police failures led to the deadly incident. It seeks compensation for loss of earnings, defamation, shortened life expectancy, pain, suffering, and a loss of pleasure in life, the report said.

During the incident “all yardsticks for Israel Police responsibility were wiped away,” the lawsuit said. “Responsibility for proper intelligence, responsibility to prepare the forces, responsibility to brief the forces for a night operation, responsibility to brief on scenarios and responses, responsibility for medical treatment, responsibility to understand the truth, for an honest investigation at the time of the incident, responsibility for the truth.”

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

The incident occurred when police arrived to oversee the demolition of homes in Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized village that the state had been removing in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

As officers converged on the village on January 18, 2017, 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 and the vehicle he was driving then accelerated downhill and rammed into a group of officers.

The State Attorney’s Office in 2018 closed an investigation into the event, saying it could not determine whether Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an had committed an act of terrorism, after reviewing all of the entire investigation material. The investigation, led by state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, had determined at the time that officers who shot Abu Al-Qia’an moments before his car ran into and killed officer Erez Levi were not suspected of a criminal offense, and had acted legally when they opened fire.

However, the Shin Bet was reported the following month to have ruled out terrorism in the incident.

Earlier this year Hebrew media reported that a Police Internal Investigations Department investigation into the incident had found that Abu Al-Qia’an was unlawfully shot and then left to bleed to death, as police mistakenly accused him of committing a car-ramming attack.

Three simultaneous reports were published by the Kan public broadcaster and the Haaretz and Sicha Mekomit news websites, each not citing sources for most of the information but featuring very similar details of the investigation.

The reports included hitherto unseen footage taken by officers at the scene, as well as transcripts from the questioning — initially by the Shin Bet and later by the PIID — of police officers and medics who were there. The material, banded together, indicates multiple failures that led to Abu Al-Qia’an’s unnecessary death.

The Shin Bet was said to have concluded within 48 hours that the incident hadn’t been a premeditated attack on police, ending its investigation and handing it over to the PIID.

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

When it came out, the Shin Bet document caused turmoil among police brass, the Shin Bet and the Justice Ministry, prompting the reopening of the investigation after an internal police probe had cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing in August 2017.

Nitzan ordered the fresh investigation after investigators with the PIID were accused by then-Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich of burying the Shin Bet document.

The PIID, which is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry and not the police, reopened its investigation and re-questioned the officers who were at the scene, submitting its revised findings — apparently contradicting the Shin Bet document — to Nitzan in December 2017. Nitzan closed the case in May 2018.

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)

In the months following the attack, police doubled down on the claim that Abu Al-Qia’an had deliberately run over and killed the officer.

Alsheich said at the time that there were indications he was involved with the Islamic State terror group.

However, those claims were based only on the presence of standard religious Muslim textbooks in Abu Al-Qia’an’s home, along with three copies of that morning’s Israel Hayom newspaper — the country’s most widely circulating daily — with the headline in Hebrew: “Islamic State bomb downs a plane.”

PIID investigators found no incriminating evidence in Abu Al-Qia’an’s computers, and learned that police had had no early indications of a potential attack during the planned evacuation.

Activists and others said police had used excessive force in Umm al-Hiran, pointing to what they claimed was institutional racism against Arabs, including Bedouin.

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