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Thousands attend funeral of Bedouin driver killed at Umm al-Hiran

Mourners decry ‘murder’ of local teacher whom police branded ‘terrorist’ after he drove his car into cops in unclear circumstances, killing one

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Joint (Arab) List leader MK Ayman Odeh holds the body of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, in a funeral that took place on January 24, 2017, near the village of Umm al-Hiran. (Joint List Spokesperson)
Joint (Arab) List leader MK Ayman Odeh holds the body of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, in a funeral that took place on January 24, 2017, near the village of Umm al-Hiran. (Joint List Spokesperson)

Thousands of mourners turned out in southern Israel on Tuesday for the funeral of a Bedouin man killed last week during violent clashes against house demolitions in the southern village of Umm al-Hiran.

Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi said that tens of thousands of people attended the funeral, at a cemetery close to the Bedouin village of Hura, near Beersheba.

The mourners expressed anger at the police and government for what they said was the murder of local schoolteacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an, who was shot dead as he drove his car into a crowd of police officers deployed to the demolitions, killing Sergeant Erez Levi.

Government officials and the police said Abu Al-Qia’an deliberately hit the officers and branded the incident a terror attack, while local residents and activists said he was first hit by a police bullet and lost control of his vehicle.

Both video from the scene and an initial autopsy appeared to raise questions about the official account.

Mourners carry the coffin of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia'an, from the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, during his funeral near Hura on January 24, 2017. (Courtesy)
Mourners carry the coffin of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, from the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, during his funeral near Hura on January 24, 2017. (Courtesy)

“Netanyahu, you coward, the land of the Negev will not be humiliated,” the mourners chanted Tuesday.

Videos posted by Arab48 showed family members of Abu Al-Qia’an weeping at the funeral.

#شاهد | عائلة الشهيد لحظة وصول الجثمانلمعرفة التفاصيل أولا بأول حمل تطبيق موقع عرب 48: https://goo.gl/fPRgbK#لن_تسقط_أم_الحيران

Posted by ‎عرب 48‎ on Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Abu Al-Qia’an was buried in a discreet grave, without any flag, Palestinian or Israeli, placed over his coffin. Joint (Arab) List head MK Ayman Odeh was among those who carried his coffin.

Police held onto Abu al-Qia’an’s body until Tuesday morning, claiming that the teacher, whose house was one of 12 destroyed in the unrecognized Bedouin village, was a terrorist who intentionally drove his car into the policemen.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)
Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

On Monday night, an Israeli court ordered police to release the body; the ruling made no mention of Abu Al-Qia’an allegedly being a terrorist.

Delivering the eulogy, the chairman of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Hamed Abu Daabas, called for a full investigation into the events that lead to Abu Al-Qia’an’s death.

“The criminal who killed our son Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an should know that our unity has been strengthened more than ever before,” he said.

Mourners attend the funeral of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, killed in violent clashes over during house demolitions in the Bedouin village, near Hura on January 24, 2017. (Joint List Spokesperson)
Mourners attend the funeral of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, killed in violent clashes over during house demolitions in the Bedouin village, near Hura on January 24, 2017. (Joint List Spokesperson)

According to Arab Israeli news site Arab48, Abu Al-Qia’an’s wife, Dr. Amal Abu Sa’id, said that her husband’s death was a deliberate act by police.

“They killed him in cold blood, and never let him escape,” she said as his body was handed over to her. “They wanted this from the moment they entered the village. They danced on his blood for political gain.”

She added: “God will avenge his blood for his children and their tears.”

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)

The deputy commander of the police southern district, Peretz Amar, said on the day of the incident that it was “a deliberate attack. This is clear. This is a fact. There is no other explanation, and anyone who tries to offer an alternative explanation wasn’t here at the time and doesn’t understand.” Amar said there were two lines of officers either side of the road, and “no possible means to claim in this situation that he didn’t see them… He hit them. He killed.”

Abu Al-Qia’an’s death was followed by a series of protests called for by the Arab-Israeli leadership, including one in Wadi Ara on Saturday that reportedly drew over 10,000 people, and another on Monday in which hundreds of vehicles from the north and south of Israel converged on the Knesset for a rally.

There are still around 70 homes left in Umm al-Hiran that are slated to be demolished in the near future.

Odeh has demanded Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan step down, accusing him of inciting against the Arab public, after he lent his voice to the police claim that Abu al-Qia’an was motivated by radical Islamist ideology — a claim the police have yet to prove.

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)
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)

Israeli officials say they only demolish homes that do not have the necessary permits, but Arab representatives say these are almost impossible to obtain.

Tibi proposed a bill Sunday calling for a 10-year freeze on demolitions in Arab towns and villages, in exchange for more rigorous enforcement of planning rules by Arab officials.

“Planning, housing, land and demolition of houses are the most critical problems between the state and its Arab minority,” Tibi said.

He admitted the bill was unlikely to pass as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed it.

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 Photo/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 Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Odeh has previously requested the state freeze demolitions for two years, and in return Arabs would stop building homes without permits while planning was worked out.

A poll published Friday found that half of Arab Israelis believe demolitions of illegal Arab construction are motivated by racism on the part of the government.

Netanyahu pledged to crack down on illegal construction in the Arab community last month, as he sought to soothe tempers over plans to demolish buildings at the unrecognized Jewish settlement outpost of Amona. The High Court later granted the outpost a 45-day stay.

AFP contributed to this report.

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