Uri Ariel offers qualified apology for Umm al-Hiran teacher’s death

As the much=debated investigation into the clashes that ensued after the demolition of the Beduin village nearly ends, the Israeli minister apologizes to the family of the slain Beduin teacher.

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)
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel on Monday gave a qualified apology to the family of a Beduin teacher slain along with a policeman during a January demolition operation in the unrecognized Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran.
Meanwhile, Justice Ministry officials approached the conclusion of an investigation that, according to media reports, will show that teacher Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean did not deliberately run over policeman Erez Levi during the January 18 incident, as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had insisted. No date has been set for the report’s release.
Ariel told Beduin leaders in Rahat, “I take advantage of this platform to say that if there really was a failure in Umm al-Hiran, I say here to you that I apologize profoundly. We will wait for the results of the investigation but there are various voices saying there were severe failures and if there were, I ask to give my apology to the family and that it would be possible for me to visit it and speak personally with it.”
The remarks by Ariel, responsible for development and settlement of the Beduin, were the furthest the government has gone toward admitting security forces may have killed an innocent man and not a terrorist, something Umm al-Hiran residents have said all along.
Ahmad Abu al-Kaeean, Kaeean’s brother, was angry at Ariel’s remarks, blaming Ariel for the decision to send the bulldozers into Umm al-Hiran, where 10 houses were demolished. He insists more time should have been given for residents to negotiate a solution to the dispute over the government’s plan to relocate them to the nearby township of Hura, to make way for a new town.
The government maintains it had offered residents adequate terms, but they refused. Residents dispute this and say the authorities abruptly broke off talks and decided instead to level homes.
“Ariel had to offer solutions and to prevent the disaster so that the bulldozers wouldn’t have come. Why send police with automatic weapons?” Kaeean said.
He said his brother was shot simply because he was driving away from the area of his home that was about to be demolished. “Why? This has to be investigated, adding that Ariel was making the statement for “public relations. If he really wants to come, he should come see the children made homeless in the winter by the demolitions.”
Video and audio of police operation in Umm al-Hiran, Credit: Forensic Architecture
MK Aida Touma-Sliman said of Ariel’s statement: “From the first day we said we need a commission of inquiry. We want to hear all the government, starting with Benjamin Netanyahu, apologize – but not only apologize.
“It’s not like they stepped on someone’s foot: a person was killed. And they should also take more decisions against those who lied and incited against the whole population. Those responsible on the ground and those responsible for the incitement should resign.”
In the eye of the storm is Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who immediately declared the incident a terrorist attack.
Erdan told the Knesset on January 25: “I, as the public security minister before all, completely back up my troops that 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.”
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich suggested on the day of the incident that Kaeean belonged to Islamic State. “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]...,” Alsheich said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin also termed the incident a terrorist attack.
On February 22, Haaretz and Channel 2 reported that the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department had concluded the incident was not a terrorist attack Erdan defended himself by saying he got his information from police. But in a Facebook post, he said an apology would be issued to the family if it became clear that Kaeean did not carry out a deliberate ramming attack.
Police were insistent it was a deliberate ramming attack despite multiple eyewitnesses who stated that Abu al-Kaeean's vehicle accelerated only after shots were fired and a police video which appeared to support that conclusion.
Former defense minister Moshe Arens told The Jerusalem Post last night that he thought the qualified apologies being made now are a function of the evidence leaking out of the investigation. "People are beginning to think there was a big mistake here."
In Arens's view "the fundamental mistake in Umm al-Hiran was the destruction of the houses of the families. You shouldn't force people out of their homes they've been in for many years and they were moved to there by the authorities. To add insult to injury the whole thing was mishandled. They accused Abu al-Kaeean of being a supporter of Daesh and did all kinds of other stuff that can't be justified."