Erdan, under fire, defends his handling of Umm al-Hiran affair

Minister says apology will be issued to family of slain Beduin teacher if investigators find incident was not a terror attack.

Video and audio of police operation in Umm al-Hiran, Credit: Forensic Architecture
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Thursday that an apology would be issued to the family of a Beduin teacher killed along with a policeman last month in the Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran if Justice Ministry investigators determine he did not deliberately ram his car into the officer.
Reacting Thursday to media reports that ministry investigators have found that the deadly incident was not a terrorist attack, as he had repeatedly asserted, Erdan defended himself by saying he got his information from police in the field and acted to back up his troops.
At the close of a post on Facebook, he wrote that what happened in Umm al-Hiran “was a difficult incident whether it was an attack or not. The conclusions of the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department [Mahash], whatever they are, will be accepted and we will act according to them.
If it becomes clear that it was not an attack than certainly it is necessary to apologize to the family.”
While Umm al-Hiran residents insisted from the outset that Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean was shot in his car by police without justification, then framed as a terrorist who fatally rammed policeman Erez Levy, Erdan maintained there was no doubt that Abu al-Kaeean had been carrying out an attack and belittled those who suggested otherwise.
On Wednesday, reports by Haaretz and Channel 20 TV that Mahash had concluded the incident was not a terrorist attack, touched off calls among Arab legislators that Erdan resign on grounds that he misled the public and engaged in anti-Arab incitement.
In his Facebook post, Erdan wrote that he could rely only on the information he was given.
“Investigation and testimonies pointed unequivocally to it being a ramming attack in which a policeman was killed.
No one has a source besides the police forces in the field and I, as a minister who was not at the scene of the incident, can only rely on the police,” he wrote.
“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.”
He accused Arab MKs of waging a “huge, false” campaign against him and Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich that was designed to deter them from enforcing the law against illegal building in Arab areas.
“I will continue to act so there is law enforcement,” he wrote.
Amal Abu Saad, ex-wife of Abu al-Kaeean and the mother of three of his children, dismissed the offer of an apology.
“It’s not enough if he apologizes,” she said. “The disaster is too great. I demand making an inquiry commission and everyone who had a hand in causing this terrible disaster of losing two people should get his punishment.
This is a heavy disaster leaving 13 children of Yacoub as orphans and the policeman also had children. On the other hand, I want them to worry about all the children. They should have houses, be able to study and be like all children who have a father.”
Abu Saad’s house was among 10 that were demolished during the operation as part of an effort to clear the village so a new town can be established in its place.
She added that she wants to see Abu al-Kaeean’s shooter brought to justice. “He was murdered and whoever shot him is a murderer. Whoever made a mistake has to be punished.”
Raja Zaatry, head of the media committee of the Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Population in Israel, also said an apology would not be enough and that Erdan should resign.
“It’s not a mistake,” he said.
“Incitement is a policy of the Netanyahu government and Erdan. The policy of making Arab citizens the enemies of the state and the Jewish majority is an official policy.”
In his Facebook post, Erdan denied that he or the police had engaged in incitement.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, said of the Umm al-Hiran operation: “There may be some racist facets but beyond anything else it was an example of the way police perceive and treat the Beduin Arab minority. They are seen as a security threat and treated as a security threat. Recognizing this mistake can be a great opportunity for the Israel Police to develop and introduce massive reforms which will change the way they perceive and act vis-à-vis the Arab minority and the Beduin and will enhance mutual trust.”
Erdan will be speaking at The Jerusalem Post conference in New York City in May.