Erdan under fire as reports say incident in Umm al-Hiran was not a terror attack

Public security minister faces calls that he be "held accountable" for allegedly misleading the public and engaging in anti-Arab incitement.

Aerial footage emerges of deadly suspected ramming attack in Negev
Justice Ministry investigators have concluded that the incident in the unrecognized Negev Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran last month in which teacher Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean and border policeman Erez Levi died was not a terrorist attack, according to reports that emerged on Wednesday.
This, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s appearing to backtrack on his insistence that it was a terrorist attack, prompted Arab MKs and Abu al-Kaeean’s brother Hamad to call for Erdan’s res- ignation on the grounds that he had engaged in anti-Arab incitement.
“The police are supposed to safeguard order and security for me, for Arabs, Jews and Beduin, but they incite against the Arab and Beduin population. It’s not fitting that [Erdan and Police commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich] be in sensitive positions. They should take responsibility and resign,” Hamad Abu al-Kaeean said.
The Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department (PID) is expected to announce in the coming days that Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean did not deliberately drive into Levi during the incident that occurred during a police demolition operation in the unrecognized Beduin village in the Negev, Haaretz reported. A similar report was made by Channel 20 television.
Security personnel shot and killed Abu al-Kaeean as he drove toward them. Erdan’s office declined to comment on the reports, saying the investigation is still under way. The reports came a day after Erdan, in a speech in Beersheba, for the first time stepped back from saying Levi died in a terrorist ramming attack, instead speaking of “a distressing incident in which a policeman and a citizen were killed.”
Several police officials who spoke with The Jerusalem Post declined to confirm Alsheich’s and Erdan’s earlier statements that the event was an attack. Spokeswoman Mairav Lapidot said they are not commenting on the matter “until the results of the internal police investigation are released.”
Similarly, Erdan’s spokesman Noam Sela told the Post that “they are waiting for the end of the investigation” to comment.
Haaretz quoted what it said were judicial sources as saying the findings of the Police Investigations Department probe thus far “are not good for the police.” It said findings indicated that Abu al-Kaeean’s car did not exceed 20 kilometers per hour. It added professionals had concluded that someone wanting to carry out a ramming attack would not have gone so slowly.
Investigators also found that policemen fired at Abu al-Kaeean’s car from farther away than they later claimed and that it was possible the firing was not necessary, Haaretz said.
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said the entire Umm al-Hiran incident, including Erdan’s actions and statements, needs to be probed. “If a minister of public security allows himself to make statements that incite the public and influence the situation in the country and raises the tension between Jews and Arabs, he should be held accountable. It can’t be left without consequences.
“There should be an investigation of what he said, and if it is proved he used his position to incite against parts of the population, he should resign,” she said.
The Umm al-Hiran affair began before dawn on January 18, when police arrived to carry out court ordered demolitions aimed at forcing residents to move, on the state’s terms, to the nearby town of Hura, so that a new town can be built in the village’s place.
At approximately 5:35 a.m., Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean slowly approached a group of officers in his jeep, and at 5:36 a.m. gunfire was registered, according to the video and image analysis organization Forensic Architecture. Shortly after the shots, the vehicle rapidly accelerated and hit Levi, which is believed to have killed him.
A few hours later, police said it was a deliberate ramming attack, despite multiple eyewitnesses who stated that Abu al-Kaeean’s vehicle accelerated only after shots were fired. The Police Investigations Department opened a probe into the incident the next day. Umm al-Hiran residents voiced disbelief that Abu al-Kaeean, a respected and well-liked teacher, could have carried out an attack.
The police’s claim of terrorism was endorsed by Erdan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, among others.
The police’s version of events immediately came under dispute.
First, video released the same day showed that officers fired before the car accelerated. Police originally said the car first accelerated toward the officers, who then shot at the vehicle. A video released in February appears to show that Abu al-Kaeean was driving with his headlights on, while police and Erdan had claimed he was driving with them off.
A source at the L. Greenberg National Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir told the Post that Abu al-Kaeean’s autopsy report indicates he was shot in the knee. This leaves open the possibility that the wound caused him to floor the accelerator and lose control of the vehicle. The source said it was also found that he did not receive potentially lifesaving treatment and instead died from bleeding out over the course of around 30 minutes. The official report has not been released, despite the Abu al-Kaeean family’s request.
Hamad Abu al-Kaeean said: “We insist that this incident be examined in depth through an independent commission, so that the truth comes out. We want the truth so that the people of Israel will know what happened that day, including how the policeman was killed. I wasn’t in the field myself, but witnesses say Yacoub was murdered in cold blood. Witnesses said they didn’t let the ambulance reach him, didn’t let a doctor treat him.”
Referring to Alsheich’s declining to comment on Wednesday’s report on the grounds that the matter is under investigation, Hamad said: “But on January 18 he did not wait for the investigation. He immediately decided and declared that Yacoub was a terrorist from Islamic State.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) called for Erdan to step down. “He behaved in an extremely irresponsible way. Once he’s accusing him of [a terrorist attack], he is saying the Arab community consists of hostile elements, and I see this as incitement, not just an accusation, especially since he did not have anything to base it on.”
Jabareen said that Erdan’s statement in which he appeared to back off from the terrorist charge came because “he was aware of the coming conclusion of PID so he changed his version.”
Erdan and Alsheich repeatedly declared the event a terrorist attack, and Erdan even belittled those who said otherwise.
“They immediately charged and took out the terrorist, after which they carried on with their mission until it was finished,” Alsheich said of police, speaking at Levi’s funeral in Yavne on January 18.
Alsheich also said at the time, “Everyone knows that the terrorist served as a schoolteacher where there had already been six teachers arrested who chose to teach the ideology of Daesh [ISIS], instead of the curriculum of the Education Ministry.”
Erdan told the Knesset on January 25 that “I, as the public security minister, before everything else, back up completely my personnel who are out there. We are talking here about an illegal settlement and a terrorist driver who should not have driven into the policemen. If we should ask anything, it should be directed to the one who carried out the attack.”