A police officer was killed on Wednesday after he was rammed by a suspected terrorist during an alleged vehicular attack in the Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran, police said.
Sr.-St.-Sgt.-Maj. Erez Levi, 34, was killed after he and other officers arrived in order to implement home demolition orders in the unrecognized Beduin village.
The driver “accelerated his car toward the officers to carry out a ramming attack,” and they shot and killed him, police said. Several other officers were wounded by the vehicle that plowed into security personnel.
Multiple eyewitnesses disputed police accounts, however, contending that the man lost control of his vehicle after being shot by police.
“I saw a jeep moving, he was coming down the hill and police up the hill. They started shouting ‘Stop, stop stop.’ Then I heard gunshots. After the first round of gunshots, the car started accelerating,” said Oriel Eisner, a staffer at the US based Center for Jewish Non Violence who witnesses the incident. “If it had been an attack, the car would have accelerated at the police from the get go. I think that either the person was killed and his foot landed on the gas, or when shots started he started to accelerate in a panic.”
Police entered Umm al-Hiran, population around 400, on Wednesday to evict residents and demolish around 10 illegally constructed homes because a Jewish town is slated to be built there.
Aerial footage from a police helicopter of the alleged attack appears to show police firing at the jeep vehicle before it accelerates rapidly.
Following the release of the video, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said police called on the vehicle to stop and fired a warning shot in the air, and only fired to kill the driver when the vehicle did not stop.
Speaking at Levi’s funeral in Yavne, Israel Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich said he had no doubt that police acted properly.
“They immediately charged and took out the terrorist, after which they carried on with their mission until it was finished.”
Police are investigating the driver, named as Yacoub Abu al-Kiyan, 50, who is reportedly a wellknown school teacher and resident of Umm al-Hiran. Police said Abu Kiyan is a member of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
Those who knew Abu Kiyan expressed disbelief that he would attack policemen. Muhammad Eid, who teaches geography at the school where Yacoub taught, termed him “an exemplary teacher and educator.”
“He taught mathematics and computers. He was very talented.
The police got into trouble so they are saying it was a ramming attack. He was murdered in cold blood.”
In another clash with police, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh sustained head injuries. Odeh was evacuated to Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.
Police said he was hit with a rock by protesters, while other accounts at the scene claim Odeh was struck by a rubber-tipped bullet.
Speaking in front of Soroka with a bandaged head and a bloodstained shirt, Odeh lambasted the police actions and the government.
Yet, on a positive note, the lawmaker concluded by saying, “In the Negev, there is room for everyone, both Jews and Arabs.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly pointed to Arab MKs, hinting that they had contributed to Wednesday’s violence.
“I ask everyone, especially members of the Knesset, to be responsible, to stop fanning emotions and inciting toward violence,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu said the incident would not prevent the demolition of illegally built housing.
“Not only will this incident not deter us, it will strengthen us. It will strengthen our determination to enforce the law everywhere,” he said.
Erdan was blunter, accusing Joint List legislators of having “blood on their hands.”
“I wish to say – especially now – to Ayman Odeh and to the rest of the Joint List who came [to Umm al-Hiran] this morning to inflame the situation: His [Levi’s] blood is on your hands.”
Meanwhile, President Reuven Rivlin called the event an act of “abhorrent terrorism,” and added that the housing arrangements for Beduin in the South “are a national and civil challenge that has stood before Israel for many years. We must find a solution and a plan to deal with this burning national, social and civil issue.”
He urged that the issue be solved “before it is too late.”
Umm al-Hiran has been the scene of an extensive legal battle between its Beduin residents and the state.
The residents are represented by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. They were moved under military order and resettled there by the IDF in 1956, after being evicted from the land on which they were living in 1948.
Although they have lived in the area for decades, the community was never given legal title to the land. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled 2-1 in 2015 that the land belonged to the state, clearing the way for the demolition of the village.
A new town of Hiran – compose of mostly religious Jewish families – is planned in place of Umm al-Hiran.
Residents of Umm al-Hiran have been offered 800-sq.m. plots of land in the nearby Beduin town of Hura and financial compensation.
Residents say, however, that they need land to maintain their agricultural way of life. Furthermore, they say they have not received written guarantees that their living conditions there would be anything close to what they currently have.
Approximately 160,000 Beduin live in the Negev, with about half of them residing in unrecognized villages.Udi Shaham contributed to this report.
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