Calls are mounting for the release of the autopsy report of Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean, the driver who was killed by police during a controversial demolition operation in the Negev Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran on January 18. Witnesses and aerial footage of the incident raise the possibility that he was shot by a policeman while immobilized.
Abu al-Kaeean died along with policeman Erez Levi during the court-sanctioned operation, aimed at forcing the residents of Umm al- Hiran to relocate to the nearby township of Hura, so that a new town can be constructed in place of the unrecognized village whose residents have lived there since 1956.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said on January 18 that Levi was run over in a terrorist attack when Abu al-Kaeean rammed him with his car, after being shot by Levi’s fellow officers. However, eyewitnesses interviewed by The Jerusalem Post
shortly after the incident said Abu al-Kaeean’s vehicle accelerated only after shots were fired at.
This conclusion appears to be supported by video footage taken from a police helicopter that was posted on the Internet. Umm al-Hiran residents, including Abu al-Kaeean’s siblings, claim he was shot without justification by police and then framed as a terrorist.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan supports the police version of events. Speaking in the Knesset on Wednesday, he said: “In the video that was taken from the helicopter and from the police investigation it was clear that it was a terrorist attack, a deliberate ramming. You could have seen that the jeep accelerates, turns sharply to the right and hits the policemen. Then, he turns again to escape but he stops when a police vehicle stops him.
“I, as the public security minister before all, back up completely my troops that are out there. We are talking here about an illegal settlement and a terrorist driver that should have not driven into the policemen,” he said. “If we should ask anything, it should be directed to the one who carried out the attack,” Erdan added.
Those issuing calls in recent days for the release of the autopsy findings include Zionist Union MK Zuhair Bahloul, former senior state attorney Talia Sasson and Joint List MKs.
The episode has aggravated tensions between Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of the population, and the government and prompted calls from legislators in the United List, Meretz and the Zionist Union for an independent commission of inquiry.
Asked whether police had shot Abu al-Kaeean in a “verification of the kill” after he was immobilized, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Post
that, “All the questions in connection with that incident are still being looked into and are under investigation.”
The possibility that Abu al-Kaeean was shot again after he was immobilized should be taken seriously, according to Eyal Weizman, director of Forensic Architecture, a research agency specializing in video and image analysis at Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2014 Weizman did work on the IDF’s “knock on roof” warnings used during Operation Protective Edge and told The Guardian
that if the Gaza conflict ever makes it to the International Criminal Court, he would work with the prosecution.
The group has timed and located dozens of activists’ photographs and videos shot on the morning of January 18 in Umm al-Hiran. One particular sequence of videos shot by Keren Manor, of Activestills, a collective of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers, captured the sound of the first burst of gunfire.
The group has been able to synchronize and match her soundtrack to the aerial footage released by the police. With the soundtrack they could start listening to what was taking place on the ground at the time the police helicopter was hovering overhead.
“A few seconds after Abu al-Kaeean’s vehicle comes to a standstill we can see a group of five or six policemen running toward it,” Weizman said. “At 05:36:49 a.m., 35 seconds after Abu al-Kaeean’s vehicle came to a standstill, when the police are standing close to the vehicle, we could identify the clear sound signature of a single gunshot. This is consistent with the outlawed practice of a ‘verifying the kill’ shot, though it needs to be cross-referenced with witness testimonies from the ground.”
One witnesss, Ramzi Abu al-Kaeean, a carpenter and nephew of Yacoub, told the Post on Thursday that he saw two policemen open the door of Yacoub’s car. “I heard gunshots. They carried out a ‘verifying the kill.’ I don’t remember if it was a single shot or more than that. A soldier came and told the soldiers ‘We have taken down the terrorist.’”
Ramzi said, “There were many soldiers in the area, but those who opened the door of the car were only two. I said, ‘Why have you killed my uncle, he didn’t do anything. Call Magen David Adom [ambulance service].’
“They started attacking me. Two policemen started kicking me in the face. Then illumination flares were fired. One of the policemen said, ‘Come let’s put a bullet in his head.’ They told me ‘If you move, we’ll shoot, we’ll kill you.’
“One went and one said ‘Stand on your feet’. I stood. They said to me don’t look to the right or the left or we’ll shoot you. Only straight. When I walked two or three meters one shouted at me ‘son of a prostitute, don’t do anything or we’ll shoot you.’ One struck me in the back. Every day I see this at night. I can’t sleep,” Ramzi Abu al-Kaeean said.
Another witness, Tayseer Abu al-Kaeean, posted on on the Internet on Monday that he saw police “aiming their weapons in the direction of Yacoub’s car that drove slowly downwards. After a few shots I saw the car going down quicker,” he said.
“It got stuck against the mountain. A police car came and struck Yacoub’s car from the front. I saw the door of Yacoub’s car open and his body outside the car, there were shots. I think it was a confirmation of the killing.”
The eyewitness accounts conflict with news reports that the autopsy at the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir found that Yacoub had bled to death after being denied medical treatment. As reported in the Post on January 22, a source at the institute speculated that because Abu al-Kaeean suffered a bullet wound to his right knee, this might have caused him to accelerate and lose control of his vehicle. However, because he was also shot in his chest, he might have survived if he were treated in the field before bleeding to death.
The Israel Police and the Justice Ministry are for now keeping the forensic report on Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean’s death classified. The ministry’s Police Investigation Unit (Mahash), which is tasked with investigating the Umm al-Hiran operation, has thus far not responded to a request by Abu al-Kaeean family members through their lawyers at the Arab minority rights NGO Adalah to release the report.
Mahash spokeswoman Efrat Oren said, “When they [Mahash] finish the investigation, it will be possible to release all the materials.”
Bahloul said, “I think that it is something basic to release the pathologist’s report, because if there are question marks it is necessary to dispel them with the autopsy results. This is ABC for a properly functioning country.
“As long as they don’t release the pathologist’s report, they leave question marks and we must show these question marks to the Israeli public in the most determined way.
There is possibly an intention to hide something here and it needs to be released so that the family and public can understand what happened there in this unsolved incident, so that the public knows why he was killed.”
Sasson, who heads the New Israel Fund, said: “Of course they need to release it. The family has the right to know what happened and the public needs to know. Why is it classified? What is the reason? They should say why they are keeping it classified. What is it, security information?” Ahmad Abu al-Kaeean, Yacoub’s brother, said: “No one in the family has seen the report. We requested it through our lawyers.
They have something to hide. Maybe it’s ‘verifting the kill.’”