Testimonies on deadly Umm al-Hiran incident reveal breakdown in protocol
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Testimonies on deadly Umm al-Hiran incident reveal breakdown in protocol

Probe of deaths at Bedouin village, in what was initially termed a terror attack, finds woeful lack of police preparedness

Israeli policemen stand guard as bulldozers demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev Desert, on January 18, 2017. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli policemen stand guard as bulldozers demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev Desert, on January 18, 2017. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

A police probe into the deadly shooting last month of a Bedouin man as his car struck and killed a policeman in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran revealed a breakdown in operational procedures in the lead-up to the operation.

Police were still gathering testimony as part of the probe into the incident, which authorities first claimed as a ramming terror attack — a charge the family of the suspect, Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, has vehemently denied, arguing that he was shot before his car sped up, leading him to lose control of the vehicle.

Channel 10 reported Thursday that new testimony showed a troubling picture of police preparedness for the January 18 operation, which aimed to evacuate the village and demolish its homes. The report said planning for the predawn operation commenced just the previous afternoon, despite the fact that such operations generally require weeks of planning.

The plan was initially rejected when submitted that evening for approval, on the grounds that the officers dispatched to carry it out were not sufficiently prepared, the report said. The plan was also leaked, and yet it went ahead anyway.

Furthermore, a short briefing was held that morning at the village for senior officers only. The policemen dispatched to secure the demolition were unfamiliar with the layout, and were tense when they arrived because a vehicle had blocked the turnoff to the village, forcing them to abandon their vehicles and run on foot for several kilometers in the dark.

Previous testimony leaked this week suggested that Al-Qia’an was shot both before and after his car hit the officer, contributing to claims that the incident wasn’t a terror attack. A Justice Ministry investigation has found that the January incident was not terrorism, reports this week said.

The incident took place in the early morning of January 18, when police arrived to demolish houses in the village, which the state was seeking to remove in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

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

As officers converged on Umm al-Hiran, Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, a teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, telling friends that he did not wish to witness its destruction. Soon afterward, the vehicle rammed into a group of officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34. Abu Al-Qia’an was fatally shot by police.

Video footage that emerged in the hours after the incident showed that the officers fired before Abu Al-Qia’an accelerated, and that, contrary to police assertions, the car’s lights were on. In addition, Channel 10 reported last month that a police autopsy indicated that a police bullet hit him in the right knee, smashing it. The bullet wound may have caused Abu Al-Qia’an to lose control of his car, the TV report said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), who, along with Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich, initially asserted that Al-Qia’an was a nationalistically motivated terrorist, inspired by the Islamic State group, has since backtracked on the claim. The minister said on Thursday that he would apologize to the family if the Justice Ministry findings were conclusive.

Erdan said in a statement that it was “possible” he was mistaken.

The final report by the ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has not yet been released and officials say it’s still being worked on.

Earlier this week, testimony collected from a number of officers at the scene suggested they may have shot Al-Qia’an before it was clear if he was trying to hit the police, Channel 10 news reported Wednesday.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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