גורם בשב”כ מותח ביקורת על בכיר הארגון לשעבר, המפכ”ל רוני אלשיך
The official police-government version of the tragic deaths of an Israeli Bedouin and policeman at Umm al Hiran last month is now coming apart at the seams. The above video features a translation of a TV news panel in which Maariv journalist, Kalman Liebeskind, reveals the shocking dysfunction of the operation which led to the deaths.
A Shabak source has released an exclusive statement to me that not only contradicts the official version of events, but apologizes for the agency’s role in perpetuating it:
“Though Shabak hasn’t issued any official statement, I – as an unofficial spokesman – apologize on behalf of the agency for hurrying to adopt (and to tell journalists) the version Roni Alsheikh told senior Shabak officials that day. ‘The Fox’ is highly esteemed within the agency…but as a police commander, apparently he is still inexperienced. I learned the lesson from this, and I hope he did too.”
This is an extraordinary admission. Shabak almost never speaks as explicitly as this about mistakes or errors. It’s certainly easier to apologize about the mistakes of others (as it does here) than about one’s own. But still, Alsheikh is one of the Shabak’s own, as a former deputy director, and for it to distance itself from him and his police colleagues is unprecedented.
Other media sources are now also coming forward to pick apart the official account of the tragedy. Tammy Riklis of HaOkets has uploaded a video of her interview of Yaqoub Abu Alqiyan’s nephew, Taysar Abu Alqiyan, who was an eyewitness to the murder. Here written account is here (Hebrew). Riklis will try to upload an English translation of it asap. In the meantime, I’ve included the original Hebrew version.
In it, he says that around 5:30am, a massive force of IDF and police units arrived at the village. Taysar says that they arrived in full body armor as if they were prepared for a major battle. He notes there were also snipers stationed around the village, as if they were prepared either for armed resistance (preposterous since the Bedouin were not armed) or to kill anyone who resisted.
The victim’s nephew recounts that his uncle drove his car slowly down a hill heading out of the village. Then, he says there were shots fired suddenly without any warning from the Israeli forces. His uncle appears to have been wounded, at which point the car began to weave down the hill, picking up speed and eventually coming to a stop.
There were more shots fired at the vehicle. Then Taysar saw policemen swarm around the vehicle, open the door, where he saw his uncle already lying unconscious. Then he heard more shots from those gathered around the vehicle. From Taysar’s description, these would likely be “kill shots” fired by Israeli forces who intend to ensure that a wounded victim is dead. This is nothing less than a cold-blooded execution.
During the mêlée surrounding his uncle, he also saw a silver IDF vehicle under fire from a police unit. There was a great deal of shouting before they understood they were firing on their own troops.
At this point, I want to bring in a Facebook post published today by Israeli activist and independent journalist, Avi Blecherman. He offers several intriguing theories about what happened that morning, based on media reports he’s read. First, he suggests (perhaps based on this Haaretz report–Hebrew) that the Israeli units on the scene refused the permit emergency vehicles to enter the area to help Abu Alqiyan. He wasn’t yet dead, but died of blood loss. This is not at all far-fetched since it’s very common for Israeli forces who’ve wounded Palestinians either to shoot them dead (cf. Elor Azarya) or refuse medical attention until they die on the scene.
Second, Blecherman suggests that Sgt. Erez Levy, the officer who was killed didn’t die by being run over by Abu Alqiyan’s vehicle. Rather, he may’ve been killed in the midst of the friendly fire incident. He supports his claim by noting that the government attempted to bury him almost immediately. While under normal circumstances there would be an autopsy to determine cause of death. This is the behavior of someone who has something to hide.
Blecherman also notes that Abu Alqiyan’s elderly father, Musa, died ten days ago. Media accounts say he variously died of shock or heartbreak, both of which seem reasonable given the circumstances.
If you think of the preposterous claims offered just after the killings that the Bedouin schoolteacher was in actuality an ISIS terrorist, it would make sense to devise such an outlandish theory in order to deflect from the serious command and control errors by forces in the field. This is also quite common in similar situations. After Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered in a gruesome settler terror attack, the police sought to divert attention from their own dereliction of duty in preventing the murder by attributing it to Abu Khdeir’s own family, saying it was an honor killing because the victim was gay. Later, this was proven to be the heinous lie it was when first offered the press.
A further major issue in this tragic circumstance is that government negotiators were in the midst of intense talks with the residents of Umm Al Hiran about evacuating their village and moving to the permanent site, Hura, where the state wanted them to move. These talks were in an advanced stage and the residents had asked for clarification of several issues before finalizing them. Then, the night before the killings, the government suddenly suspended the negotiations with no reason offered. Apparently, someone (perhaps Erdan) had decided to take a hardline and show the Bedouins who’s boss. A show of force would persuade the Bedouin, so went the thinking I presume, that they had nothing to be gained by drawing out negotiations (which they weren’t delaying anyway).
Now, any goodwill that had accrued during these negotiations has evaporated. New talks cannot commence until the forty days of mourning end for Abu Alqiyan. Even then, the Bedouin community will be unlikely to seek conciliation after the terrible consequences of this government-sanctioned bloodbath.
Police minister, Gilad Erdan is under intense fire for his handling of the case. This is mostly because a policeman was killed, rather than because an innocent Bedouin was murdered. But nevertheless, at least there is some demand for accountability. He has offered yet another self-serving load of steaming horse manure in his defense. In a Facebook post accompanied by a photograph of him with police commandos, featuring him in heroic profile, he writes. As you read this, keep in mind that the Israeli media has announced that the state prosecutor’s office which investigates police misconduct has made findings diametrically opposite to Erdan’s claims:
A police investigation and eyewitness accounts of police on the scene confirm incontrovertibly that there was a terror attack in which a vehicle ran over and killed a policeman. These are the findings and there is no other source that has any different information than that of the police in the field. I as minister, who wasn’t on the scene at the time, can only trust them [and what they told me]. THis is the way things work and must work in every such official framework and in every ministry regarding the minister appointed to oversee it.
Note the italicized passage in which he offers himself an “out” if/when the prosecutor’s report finds the police in the field lied about their account of the incident. Erdan adds that he must give credence to the reports offered by his personnel because they toil “night and day” to “uphold the law and maintain order.” Note here that he places blame on the Bedouin themselves for being lawbreakers by seeking to maintain themselves in homes given to them 60 years ago by the State itself, in the form of the IDF.
He protests that criticism of the police should cease because if every time it engaged in an operation to maintain the law it was criticized, then there could be no police at all and no order or law to uphold. Clearly a preposterous claim. Police who merely enforce the law without killing innocent people in the process don’t have anything to worry about. It’s only police action that causes death not only of innocent bystanders, but of policemen themselves, that demands investigation and accountability. In this case, Erdan maintains if those who break the law are offered equal consideration to those who uphold it [the police] then police themselves could not function.
The minister does concede mistakes may’ve been made and he will accept the findings of the prosecutor (which is mighty kind of him considering he has little choice unless he wishes to place himself above the law). He concedes that the investigation may find that the incident was not a terror attack (which is already clear) and graciously concedes that in this event, there will be “lessons to be learned.”
Erdan concludes with a vicious riposte against the band of conspirators who, he claims, are out to destroy him and Roni Alsheikh, the national police chief. He claims that critics said almost immediately after the “vehicle attack” (which, again, never was according to all credible reports) charged the police with employing deliberate violence against the Arabs [sic]. In truth, what critics like myself objected to was the heap of lies Erdan himself was offering to justify the killings.
The minister singles out for blame, MK Ayman Oudeh, who himself nearly lost an eye from a rubber bullet fired deliberately at him for soldiers on the scene. He claims that Oudeh actually incited the residents to their unlawful acts of defiance against police. In fact, there were no such acts, however he may define them. The MK was there in solidarity with his own constituents who were resisting being ethnically cleansed from their own homes. This resistance was not violent (despite the false claim of a terror attack). Instead, Erdan talks as if the residents were armed to the hilt, throwing rocks and firebombs and spitting viciously at the authorities. This, in fact is precisely how settlers behaved toward police during the evacuation of the Gaza settlements. But none of them were shot in cold blood. Miraculously, they all lived to fight another day on behalf of a settler state.
In this Twitter thread, Oudeh retweets the earliest police lies about the incident. For those who don’t speak Hebrew, several Israelis make puns on the Hebrew word, police (mishtara) by calling them m’shakrah (police ‘liars’) or mishta-ra (‘evil’ police).
I hope the state prosecutor examines closely the orders and briefing given to the police and army before the operation began. Why were they on such an elevated state of alert that such an innocent incident as a man driving a car slowly down a road could be turned into such a terrible tragedy? What were they told about the residents? And was whatever they were told borne out by facts?
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.