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Ylenia Gostoli

No prospects for justice a year after killing of Palestinian teacher in Umm al-Hiran

Yaqoub Abu al-Qian was shot by Israeli police last year [Arab48]

Date of publication: 19 January, 2018

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Israeli police have ended an internal investigation into the death of Yaakub Abu al-Qian, who was shot by a police officer in a Negev village.
A year after the death of Yaakub Abu al-Qian, an internal police investigation has ended with a recommendation that no charges be filed against the officers involved in his shooting, according to Israeli media reports.

On January 18, 2017, preparations for a large-scale home demolition in Umm al-Hiran, an "unrecognised" Negev village, ended with two fatalities. Al-Qian, a 50-year-old teacher, was shot dead after Israeli police opened fire on his car. Police officer Erez Levy, 34, was run over by al-Qian's car. 

Activists who were present on the scene and police spokesmen gave conflicting accounts of what happened. Police immediately reported al-Qian had deliberately ploughed his car into a group of police officers, while other eyewitnesses said shots had been fired at the vehicle before it gained speed down a steep hill.

Footage of the incident taken from a police helicopter appears to show shots were fired in the direction of the vehicle before it accelerated.

"The Machash [Israel's Police Internal Investigations Department] has been procrastinating. They should investigate the file and bring the policemen [responsible] before a court, not just check with them," Raed al-Qian, Yaakub's 40-year-old nephew, told The New Arab.

Immediately after his death, al-Qian's family asked a criminal investigation be opened. A spokesperson for Israel's justice ministry, of which the Machash is part, confirmed to The New Arab that the case had "recently been transferred to the State Attorney, pending a decision", and the ministry was unable to comment further.
We never got the autopsy report and were not informed so far about any developments with the investigation, although there have been many leaks to the media


While media leaks suggest that the Machash's recommendation to the state prosecutor is that the conduct of police officers that day did not constitute a crime, there has been no official statement and the family has been left in the dark since the beginning of the investigation, according to a lawyer who is working on the case.

"We never got the autopsy report and were not informed so far about any developments with the investigation, although there have been many leaks to the media," Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with Haifa-based rights group Adalah, told The New Arab.

Adalah accuses the Machash of whitewashing and giving the "green light to continued deadly police violence against Arab citizens", pointing at systemic flaws in the way investigations are conducted.

Police investigating themselves

"Mahash, the police investigation unit - it's not and it was never an independent unit," MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, the only Arab-led party in the Knesset, told The New Arab. "The fact is those who are conducting the investigation are police officers. They are leave their own police unit for a period of time, work on this investigation, and then go back to the police. Their affiliation is obvious."

Odeh, who was in Umm al-Hiran on the day of the demolition raid, is seen in one of the videos of the incident, which took place before dawn. In the clip, he is seen approaching police officers and talking to them until he is pepper-sprayed.

"Soon after police arrived to the village, we heard gun noises," Odeh said. "I asked to go through to see what happened, and they sprayed pepper spray directly into my eyes. From the pain I took a few steps back. And then shots were fired and I was hit by a sponge-tipped bullet, once in the forehead and once in my back.

"When I was already evacuated from the place, in the ambulance, I heard in the news the police claimed I was hit by stones thrown at me by residents of the village."

News reports on the day also claimed there had been an "ISIS attack", on the back of recent incidents in Europe that had left deep scars on the Western psyche.

Odeh went on to say that Palestinian citizens of Israel have a particularly "harsh history with this investigation unit".
The Or Commission found that in none of the cases was there a real threat that justified the gunfire, including live rounds fired at the demonstrators. Despite the findings, no indictment was filed against any of the police officers responsible


At the outset of the Second Intifada in October 2000, 13 protesters were killed in demonstrations that took place in Palestinian towns across Israel against harsh policies towards Palestinians in the occupied territories.

A commission of inquiry headed by former justice Theodor Or was established in November 2000 to look into the fatalities. The Or Commission found that in none of the cases was there a real threat that justified the gunfire, including live rounds fired at the demonstrators. Despite the findings, no indictment was filed against any of the police officers responsible.

Since then, says Mossawa, an organisation that documents violations against Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, at least 30 Palestinian citizens have been killed by police, and only in three cases were officers convicted of a crime.

"I doubt whether to call it 'investigation' because it seems all of these cases went in the same direction of exempting the police officer from his responsibility and holding no one responsible for these killings," Bishara said. "It seems that [the police investigations unit] functions as a body to protect the police officers, rather than holding them responsible for these killings and unjustified shootings."

Ylenia Gostoli is an independent journalist based in Jerusalem. Her work was shortlisted for the Anna Lindh Mediterranean Journalist Award in 2014. 

Follow her on Twitter @YleniaGostoli

 

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