A Beduin woman from al-Aweida tribe sits next to her tent in north Sinai.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On January 18, two men were killed in the Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran during a violent demonstration. Police officer Erez Levi, 34, was run over by a car. Yakub Abu al-Kaeen, 47, the man who ran over Levi, was shot and killed by police.
The police initially jumped to the conclusion that al-Kaeen had intentionally rammed Levi with his car, a form of vehicular terrorism that has been used on a number of occasions by Palestinian terrorists against Israelis, particularly in the Jerusalem area and in Judea and Samaria.
Particularly outspoken against Kaeen were Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.
During a eulogy for Erez, who left behind a wife and two children, Alsheich referred to Kaeen as a “despicable terrorist” who intentionally accelerated with the intent of murdering the officer.
Erdan insisted after the incident that Kaeen was a member of ISIS. Kaeen’s body was not immediately released for burial as punishment.
The implication was that ISIS ideology had made its way into Beduin society.
However, in recent days thanks to diligent and upright self-scrutiny, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has found that the original version of the events presented by Alsheich and Erdan was flawed.
Kaeen, it now seems, lost control of his vehicle after being shot by police.
Nevertheless, Erdan nor Alsheich have yet to apologize. In a Facebook post Erdan said his original statements disparaging Kaeen as a terrorist were based on Israel Police’s initial reports.
“I supported the police, who operated there in our name, and as long as there is no other objective finding, it is my duty to continue to give support to those working day and night to protect us all and to enforce law and order. If it becomes clear there were mistakes or that it was not a terrorist attack then definitely there is an obligation that the system learns from this and I will ensure the lessons are learned and what needs to be fixed is fixed.”
Erdan also lashed out at the Knesset’s Arab members, who accused the police from the outset of using too much force. He said they were waging a “huge, false” campaign against him and Alsheich that was designed to deter them from enforcing the law against illegal building in Arab areas.
We understand that it is not easy for Erdan and Alsheich to issue an apology. It could easily be interpreted by police officers as betrayal. Politically, Erdan has no interest in appearing to be conciliatory toward a radicalized Arab public.
Still, recognizing their mistake of rashly jumping to conclusions and stigmatizing an entire community is in the nation’s interest. Already, there are signs that the incidents at Umm al-Hiran have caused a crisis of trust. A group of Beduin soldiers from the North announced Sunday they would no longer report for reserve duty in protest against Israel’s treatment of their Beduin brethren.
Many Beduin come from families headed by men who served in the IDF. In many of these families, children were brought up instilled with a sense of loyalty to the State of Israel. The statements made by Erdan and Alsheich have damaged the already delicate relations between the State of Israel and its Beduin population.
Admittedly, there are many negative phenomena within Beduin society, from polygamy and violence against women to lawlessness and disregard for Israeli institutions. However, jumping to hasty conclusions and making sweeping generalizations against Beduin society only serves to further alienate it.
We should be proud that, despite heavy political pressure and a clear interest in covering up its failures, the Israel Police unearthed the truth about what happened on January 18 at Umm al-Hiran. Israel’s robust democracy has once again proven itself.