In 2017, Israeli Border Police arrived in a Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, which was slated for demolition to make way for a Jewish settlement to be built on its land. This ethnic cleansing is standard operating procedure for Israel’s indigenous Bedouin, who have never been allotted the grazing and agricultural lands they worked for generations in the Negev. Instead, the government cast a blind eye at what it called “unrecognized villages,” which were shacks built by the Bedouin for their families and flocks without any government assistance.
When it began plans to develop the Negev for Jewish settlement, it created a city in the Negev, Rahab, and directed the local to move there. However, it never provided the city any of the services or amenities necessary to make it viable for the residents. As a result, it is a city beset by crime, poverty and drugs. The Bedouin mostly shun it for that reason.
Here is how Gideon Levy described the crime of ethnic cleansing inflicted on the Bedouin of Umm al Hiran:
Israel had decided to destroy a community that it itself created, after rehousing residents there it had expelled from their lands in 1956, to keep them away from a kibbutz. Now they are expelling them again to build a community for religious-Zionist Jews. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein and justices before him rejected all the challenges. “The residents of Umm al-Hiran have no right to the place,” declared Rubinstein, a justice on the Supreme Court, the beacon of justice in Israel. He, too, is an accomplice.
No one has asked where exactly do Bedouin have any rights in this land, which is also theirs… This didn’t happen in 1948 or even 1958. The year was 2017. Without any shame, embarrassment, security excuse or Zionist prattle; pure apartheid in sovereign Israel. To “Judaize,” an abominable term; to get rid of the Bedouin and build for Jews.
That morning Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, a math teacher at Yitzhak Rabin High School and the first Israeli Bedouin to earn a PhD in chemistry, woke to find bulldozers preparing to demolish his home. He could not bear to witness it. He packed a few belongings and got in his car and slowly made his way on the road leading out of the village.
A later investigation determined he was traveling 6 miles per hour when a Border Police officer began running toward him. Without warning, he fired at the car and wounded Al-Qiyan In the knee. The force of the bullet jerked the driver’s foot and he involuntarily jammed on the accelerator. As he did the car lurched forward out of control and only came to a stop after it rammed into a group of police. One of the group was killed in the accident.
From the beginning, everyone involved knew what had happened. In multiple blog posts here covering the story, I railed against the official narrative and offered strong evidence that it was a shame.
The Shin Bet determined within 48 hours that the killing had been the result of grievous negligence on the part of the officer who fired at the car.
But that didn’t stop the police commissioner and the police minister from both trumpeting the lie that al-Qiyan had been an ISIS terrorist aiming to attack Israeli law enforcement. That minister was none other than Gilad Erdan, whose anti-BDS flimflamery I profiled in a recent blog post.
A confidential internal police memo urged the state prosecutor to counter the statements of both individuals. But he refused because he wrote in response that to do so would only play into the hands of those seeking to tarnish the reputation of Israeli law enforcement.
Which is, of course, ironic because that’s precisely what the exposure of their cover-up has done. Had they done the right thing at the right time, the public would have been able to accept the truth and move on. Now the damage has been multiplied because they permitted the name of a distinguished member of the Bedouin community to be dragged through the mud in order to cover their own asses.
But I regret to say this is only the first level of dysfunction to report here regarding this story. The second level is the origin of this Israeli news story. An Israeli investigative reporter known for his far-right-wing views (his father was a convicted settler terrorist who bombed and maimed Palestinian leaders in the 1970s), Amit Segal, broke this story.
After he did, we heard for the first time Bibi Netanyahu express his “shock and horror” at the injustice done to the Al Qiyan family. The prime Minister bellowed about the betrayal he felt at the police who came to him and not once, but three times repeated to him that the victim was a terrorist. He apologized to the family in that mealy-mouthed way Israelis do when they have to do something for Palestinians they don’t really want to do:
“First, I would like to apologize before the al-Kiyan family, the head of which, an Israeli citizen, was killed. He was labeled a terrorist, and yesterday it became clear he was not one.””Yesterday, it was revealed that high-ranking officials from the State Attorney’s Office and police turned [al-Kiyan] into a terrorist only to protect themselves and harm me,” Netanyahu said.
“I received a report. I asked police three times and received a report from the commissioner’s office that it indeed was a car-ramming attack…
“I said at the time there were serious issues with police’s conduct, and they said, ‘God forbid the media reveal the misconduct as it will support Netanyahu’s claims.’
“But it is much worse than what I said, because the Police Investigations Department [PID] wanted to investigate the incident and [then-]state attorney Shai Nitzan forbade it.”
The police too released their own self-serving non-apology:
“This is a sad incident that took place more than three and a half years ago, during which an officer and a local lost their lives during a operation conducted according to the law,” police said. “We are sorry for the family’s loss.”
According to the unit, “the incident was examined by all authorized agents, the conclusions were published and we are committed to act to prevent such incidents in the future regardless” of the reports.
Though Erdan has refused to respond to the latest developments, he released two conflicting statements shortly after the murder. In the first, he falsely accused the victim of being a terrorist and attacked the Joint List for protesting the killing (his lies are italicized):
“This was a grave incident for our forces and for the whole country. A terrorist associated with the Islamic Movement sped toward our forces with the intention of killing as many police officers as possible before the start of the eviction. Since then, I have been hearing more and more calls of incitement that are distorting the picture of what really happened. I call upon the Knesset members from the Joint List: ‘Stop the incitement.’”
In the second, he admitted there had been a “regrettable incident,” but insulted the memory of the victim by refusing to name him. Instead, he was “a civilian.” Erdan added that exposing the crime would worsen the ‘sterling’ relations between the Bedouin and the State:
“A difficult and regrettable incident took place in Umm al-Hiran a few weeks ago. We mustn’t let anyone try to take this particular incident in which unfortunately both a policeman and a civilian were killed and draw inferences from it regarding the totality of the relationship between the Bedouin population and the police.”
Erdan has since received a promotion and been named the Israeli UN ambassador. In addition, after the U.S. election he will take up the post of ambassador to the U.S. These are two of the most prestigious diplomatic posts in the Israeli foreign ministry. All this for a man who insulted the dead, advocated destroying the Haram al Sharif, and promoted illegal funding of anti-BDS projects by U.S. Israel Lobby groups.
As in all stories of this kind, you have to look beneath the surface at the motivations of all parties. Let’s start with Segal: did he, all of a sudden become a flaming leftist “Arab lover” intent on exposing the injustices done to Israel’s Bedouin community? No. So why did he do it?
As with most everything bad or corrupt in today’s Israeli politics, it all goes back to Bibi. He is in a life and death struggle with the Israeli law enforcement and judiciary as his corruption trial nears. He is doing all in his power to discredit the courts and the police so that either they will succumb to the attacks and let him off; or if convicted, he will have so damaged the reputation of the Israeli legal system that the average Israeli will believe he was railroaded.
There is only one reason this story was reported now; and it has nothing to do with offering Al Qiyan justice. It has everything to do with the battle between Bibi and the police. The Israeli leader has no shame: he is not above exploiting a dead Bedouin if it scores him a few points in the war to save his political career.
So instead of viewing this story as an attempt at undoing a grave injustice; or the attempt by the Israeli system to do right by its Bedouin minority–this is yet another example of its exploitation for the benefit of the political elite.
It’s worth noting that neither Erdan, the police chief nor State prosecutor, each of whom played a key role in covering-up this brutal killing, has ever apologized for either the death or their inexcusable behavior. When you’ve killed an “Arab” you don’t have to. Their lives are, to use a Jewish legal term, hefker (“valueless”). Adalah has demanded that the Supreme Court charge them all with “serious misconduct.” Good luck with that. This Court does all in its power to protect the security forces from accountability. Doubtless if will fudge its way out of this one as well.