Israeli TV Channel 20 (known for its especially right-wing views) aired a news report (Ynet has now reported the story as well) by Maariv reporter Kalman Liebeskind (who is himself Orthodox and right-wing) about the murder of a Bedouin villager at Umm al Hiran last month. A police officer also died in the incident. At the time of the incident, the far-right police minister, Gilad Erdan, declared the attack was the work of a known ISIS terrorist. As I pointed out here the day after the event, the minister offered no proof supporting his claim. There had been no previous reports among Israeli Bedouin of support for the radical Islamist group. I further reported with the help of Ronnie Barkan, that the video of the incident offered by police had been doctored in order to make it appear that Yaqoub Abu Alqiyan’s vehicle accelerated suddenly and deliberately into the police on the scene. All the claims just didn’t smell right and have indeed been proven wrong.
Police had arrived at the Bedouin village to “evacuate” (i.e. ethnically cleanse) it in order to make way for Jewish settlements. These are part of a long-term plan to “Judaize” the Negev in much the way that occupied Palestine has been stolen from their indigenous inhabitants. Hundreds of police swarmed through the village along with bulldozers to be used to destroy the homes of the residents, who had refused to move to what was called by the government their “permanent” residences. These are in antiseptic pre-fab towns like Rahab, plopped down in the middle of nowhere, without any soul or sense of community or infrastructure.
The ethnic cleansing campaign is uprooting tens of thousands who were settled on the land after the 1948 War after being expelled from their previous homes by warfare. Their current homes were given to them under an agreement with the IDF. Because they were settled on state land, the government today wants to reclaim it for a “better” use: settling Jews.
In his short two minute segment, Liebeskind describes a “highly problematic” police command structure which permitted two different units to fire on each other. He notes that the “damage” could’ve been far worse. Which of course discounts entirely the actual unnecessary deaths of both the Bedouin and police victims.
The reporter further declares that the original version of the incident as portrayed both by Erdan and police chief Roni Alsheikh was not supported by facts. Considering this is coming from a rightist reporter such a statement is remarkable and indicates just how dysfunctional the police action was that day.
The article portrays a more likely scenario of what transpired. The victim, Abu Alqiyan, a local teacher, was heartbroken to witness the destruction of the village. As a result, he packed his car intending to drive away for the day. As he drove slowly down the road, a police unit mistook him for a terrorist and began firing at him for no apparent reason other than paranoia.
A bullet struck him in the knee and caused his foot to slam down on the accelerator. This caused the vehicle to speed up and eventually drive out of control, thus hitting and killing the police officer. It’s not yet clear whether Abu Alqiyan bled to death after the shooting (police usually prevent medical personnel from reaching purported attackers until they die of blood loss) or whether he was shot so many times by police he died immediately.
The new statement which Erdan released is highly politicized, racist and deeply insulting to the memory of the victims:
We must learn lessons after it becomes clearer what really happened there, as a result of the police investigation. Then we must move forward. To strengthen the bonds, and police services which maintain order in the face of lawbreakers, who damage first and foremost the Bedouin population which is so dear to us and with whom we wish to live here in peaceful co-existence.
Erdan is also in charge of the international anti-BDS campaign, which he’s wrested from the control of the far more professional foreign ministry. It was Erdan who hired Shai Masot to work covertly out of the Israeli embassy in London. There he plotted the downfall of Tory ministers and promised to dispense a million pounds sterling in order to organize junkets for Labour MPs to Israel. After Masot’s plotting was exposed by Al Jazeera in a dramatic four-part documentary, he was sent packing back to Israel. Undoubtedly, we’ll find him promoted after the dust has settled a bit. Perhaps he’ll even become chief of intelligence at the foreign ministry, the post he tells one British interlocutor he’d like to get if he could.
The foreign ministry is tired of the embarrassment generated by efforts like these. But PM Netanyahu has no faith in the ministry and there is little chance that messes like these will cause him to change his opinion. Only public condemnation may stand in Erdan’s way. At a recent police ceremony, protesters infiltrated the event and shouted Erdan down, asking him to explain the death of the Abu Alqiyan. One hopes that the public and activists can keep up such pressure and demand accountability.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.