Two videos taken by police aerial surveillance drones of the early Wednesday car-ramming that killed a policeman at the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran appear to show police opening fire before the ramming — as well as the driver maneuvering his vehicle as he fatally accelerates into the officers.
The policeman, identified as 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, from Yavneh, was killed when the Land Cruiser smashed into him, police said. Another officer was moderately wounded.
The driver, identified as local schoolteacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, was killed when police opened fire on the vehicle.
The predawn incident took place as police were carrying out a demolition of several homes in the unrecognized village.
Israeli officials quickly termed the incident a terror attack and pointed to evidence Abu al-Qia’an had Islamist ties. The videos did not definitively resolve questions over whether he had full control of the vehicle when he ran the officer over.
Residents and activists supporting the Bedouin in their campaign to oppose the demolitions insisted that Abu Al-Qia’an was shot by police before the ramming, and did not have control of the vehicle when it hit the officers.
After the video footage was released, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials reiterated that the incident was a terror attack.
“He was killed in a vehicular terror attack,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The deputy commander of the police southern district, Peretz Amar, said the incident 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.”
The videos did not definitively resolve the conflicting accounts.
One video, slowed to one-quarter speed, seems to show muzzle flashes from at least three shots coming from the firearm of one officer located next to Abu Al-Qia’an’s vehicle just before it accelerates toward other officers.
Some police sources said officers did fire, but into the air.
An official police version of the video, which shows the muzzle flashes in its first seconds, points out that Abu Al-Qia’an’s headlights were off as he drove past the officers.
After the ramming, the vehicle is shown swerving to the right, then correcting to the left before coming to a stop as a police vehicle rushes into its way.
Oriel Eisner, 26, an activist for the Center for Jewish Non-violence who said he witnessed the incident, confirmed to The Times of Israel that police fired at the vehicle before it accelerated. Eisner speculated that the driver was trying to leave the village in order to avoid confrontation with police.
An earlier video put out by a police spokesperson showed the predawn dark and the sense of confusion that prevailed from the perspective of those on the ground.
Tensions at the site quickly escalated following the killings of the police officer and driver, with clashes breaking out between local residents, activists and Arab lawmakers trying to reach the scene, while Arab Israelis planned protests at 10 sites across the country against the demolitions.
Joint (Arab) List faction leader MK Ayman Odeh was struck in the head — by a sponge-tipped bullet, by a tear-gas canister, or by a misdirected rock thrown by a protester, according to conflicting reports — and several other people were reportedly seriously wounded.
A spokesperson for Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where Odeh and at least one moderately wounded police officer were treated, said doctors could not say definitively what caused Odeh’s wounds.
The fighting took place as police demolished at least five homes in the Arab village, including the home of Abu al-Qia’an, according to reports. Another roughly 70 homes were left standing.
A spokesperson for the Joint List said eight homes and four temporary structures were razed. TV reports said 15 homes were demolished in the unauthorized Bedouin village, home to some 400 people.
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization of Arab groups, called for a general strike in Arab towns Thursday in protest at the demolitions and Abu Al-Qia’an’s death.
Police insisted Abu Al-Qia’an may have unspecified jihadist sympathies. A statement Wednesday afternoon describing a police raid on his home said they found three copies of a November 5, 2015, edition of the Israel Hayom daily whose banner headline concerned an Islamic State bomb attack on an airliner, as well as “Arabic-language books.”
Police did not specify which books were found, but said they were sent for “expert examination.”
The village has long been a flashpoint for clashes.
The roughly 700 residents of Umm al-Hiran are the descendants of a Bedouin clan that was removed in 1948 from its original village, a site on which Kibbutz Shoval now sits.
Today, there are plans to replace the Bedouin village with a Jewish town to be called Hiran. According to reports, the new town would have 2,400 housing units, which would be populated largely by residents of the nearby community of Meitar.
As part of a much-criticized government urbanization plan for the semi-nomadic Bedouin encampments that dot the Negev desert, the villagers were told they would receive 800-square-meter family plots in the nearby town of Hura, which was built by the government in 1989 as a place to absorb Bedouins from nearby unrecognized villages.
The court said that since the Bedouins could theoretically live in the new town, the demolition was not discriminatory.
The inhabitants of Umm al-Hiran refused the court’s offer, and appealed to have their case heard before a High Court of Justice panel. The final appeal to keep their village from being demolished was struck down in January 2016.
The Arab legal aid organization Adalah, which has represented residents of Umm al-Hiran in court, said the deaths at the village Wednesday were “the responsibility of the Israeli court system and the Israeli government.”
It called the Supreme Court ruling permitting the demolition of Umm al-Hiran “racist, and accused the Israel Police of “seeing the Arab public as a whole as an enemy. The finger of the Israel Police is very light on the trigger when faced with Arab citizens.”