Justice Minister asks watchdog to review Umm al-Hiran incident

Abu al-Kaeean was killed in disputed circumstances during the January 2017 demolitions and protests.

THE CAR DRIVEN by Beduin teacher Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean is seen where it ran into policemen during the fatal January 18 demolition operation in the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE CAR DRIVEN by Beduin teacher Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean is seen where it ran into policemen during the fatal January 18 demolition operation in the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn on Sunday asked Justice Ministry oversight “czar” Judge David Rozen to probe a controversial decision by the state prosecution regarding an incident in which a policeman and a Bedouin were both killed during protests surrounding the state’s demolition of unrecognized Bedouin residences at Umm al-Hiran in the South, in January 2017.
Unlike attacks from the Likud on law enforcement and attempts to connect the issue to the alleged mistreatment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the prosecution, Nissenkorn said that the review should stay focused on whether the prosecution mistreated Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean, the Bedouin who was killed.
Rozen has criticized the prosecution harshly at times, but generally supports it as a vital institution which tries its best to make non-politicized calls.
The ministry oversight watchdog has unique credibility as the one who sent former prime minister Ehud Olmert to prison.
This move comes shortly after a failed attempt by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana to get the state comptroller to probe the state prosecution in a broader way.
In May 2018, then-state attorney Shai Nitzan decided to close the criminal probes of Kaeean and policeman Erez Levi.
Nitzan said that after reviewing additional evidence from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), neither he nor the agency could determine whether terror motives were involved on the part of the Bedouin.
He said that either way, the police involved in shooting Kaeean had not committed a crime. Whether Kaeean was innocent or not, he said that the police had reasonably felt in danger by the circumstances – even if what occurred was a tragic misunderstanding.
Nitzan did direct the police to further investigate whether the police involved in killing Kaeean should be disciplined, whether they had been properly prepared for the sensitivity of the situation, whether the victim’s medical care had been sufficient and whether there should be consequences for the policemen involved having contradictory accounts.
In February 2018, the Police Investigations Department (PID) filed a report regarding the Kaeean and Levi cases.
Abu al-Kaeean was killed in disputed circumstances during the January 2017 demolitions and protests.
Initially, the police and many right-wing politicians labeled him a terrorist after the car he was driving ran over and killed Levi.
But subsequently, PID was called in to probe police for possibly having illegally shot Kaeean, in which case the Bedouin’s vehicle may only have run over Levi after Kaeean was shot and possibly already dead, but with the vehicle still in drive.
The February 2018 annual PID report refers to the incident as a tragic one in which two families, Levi and Abu al-Kaeean, both lost loved ones. Also, the report refers to Kaeean neutrally as the deceased – all of the references seeming to treat the Bedouin man as innocent.
PID’s probe of the police for shooting Kaeean led to fierce tensions with the Police – even though its initial recommendations to the state prosecution were not to indict any policemen.
Regarding the incident, the report said, “2017 was characterized by a complex struggle in the PID arena. This was manifested by the probe of Umm al-Hiran which started at the beginning of the year and which the PID was dealing with all year long.”
Furthermore, the report narrates a sub-dispute which blew up publicly between the PID and the police when the department reopened the probe to review a Shin Bet document regarding the incident.
When the dispute over the document blew up, the Police blasted the PID, implying they had tried to bury a document which showed additional terroristic sides to the dispute and which could have supported the police narrative of the incident being a terror incident.
No explanation has been given to date about how or why the Shin Bet document was not given to PID or why the department had not reviewed it, but the annual report said that the new document did not add any new, radical facts to the case which it was not previously aware of.
When Nitzan closed the case, the police praised the prosecution’s decision, while criticizing the PID.
“PID’s findings are similar to the preliminary inquiry that was conducted on the ground by the Israel Police,” a statement said at the time.
“We are sorry that the intelligence-related investigation was stopped when the PID started its inquiry.
“Now, when it’s over, the Israel police can complete its investigation into the case, so it can learn it thoroughly – which is what should be after a complicated operation.”