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Israeli police accused of cover-up over killing during Negev demolition raid

Jan. 18, 2017 2:16 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 19, 2017 1:07 P.M.)
NEGEV (Ma'an) -- The Joint List, which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, accused Israeli police of spreading misinformation to Israeli media regarding an alleged vehicle attack Wednesday morning in the Negev, as new video footage emerged further contradicting the Israel police's version of events.

The Joint List's statement argued that Israeli police lied in their claim that a Palestinian Bedouin deliberately rammed his car into officers during a raid to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in order to distract from Israel’s campaign to establish Jewish-only towns "on the ruins of Bedouin villages.”

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said that during a raid of the slain Palestinian's home, police found three copies of a Hebrew-language newspaper from 2015 with the headline: "Isis bomb that took down a plane," suggesting that the old newspapers were evidence that the man carried out a terror attack.

Rosenfeld added in his statement that Israeli police also detained and were questioning the son "of the terrorist" as part of the investigation.

However, numerous eyewitnesses reported that Israeli police fired at the Palestinian Bedouin, identified as Yaqoub Abu al-Qian, while he was driving, which caused him to spin out of control and crash into Israeli officers, killing one policeman. Family members also firmly denied Abu al-Qian intended to carry out an attack.

Meanwhile, new Israeli police footage published by Israeli daily Haaretz, which they said was most likely from a police a helicopter hovering above the scene, appeared to show police officers shooting at al-Qian as he was driving at a very slow pace, and only several seconds after the gunfire does his car appear to speed up, eventfully plowing through police officers. It is unclear if the drive sped up intentionally.

Hours later, as Israeli bulldozers began razing the homes to the ground, renewed clashes erupted in the village.

Umm al-Hiran is one of 35 Bedouin villages considered “unrecognized” by the Israeli state, and more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages.

The unrecognized Bedouin villages were established in the Negev soon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following the creation of the state of Israel.

Now more than 60 years later, the villages have yet to be recognized by Israel and live under constant threats of demolition and forcible removal.

The Joint List’s statement described the actions by Israeli authorities as "a terrorist and bloody invasion that brings to mind the scenes of displacement and destruction of Arab villages during the Nakba in 1948." Some 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced during the creation of the state of Israel in what Palestinians call the Nakba -- “catastrophe” in Arabic.

The statement described how Israeli forces besieged Umm al-Hiran en mass and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets, "terrifying residents who took to the streets to defend their homes.”

Israeli police have denied to Israeli media that rubber-coated steel bullets were used to suppress the clashes, which are used by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. Some news sites said police were in fact firing sponge-tipped bullets, with journalists pointing out they are just as lethal as rubber bullets.

"Police behaved as in a battlefield, and as a result of the clashes, Yaqoub Abu al-Qian fell a martyr, and dozens of others, including MK Ayman Odeh were injured."

The Joint List said that the "crime in Umm al-Hiran" was in line with the “dangerous escalation” of anti-Palestinian policies within the "extremist" Israeli government.

"The (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu government has effectually declared a military war against our people in the 1948 area,” the statement said, referring to lands that were declared part of the Israeli state in 1948.

“The war started with demolitions in Qalansawe, and it is continuing today in Umm al-Hiran."

The Joint List denied the "false narrative,” in which Israeli police claimed that Abu al-Qian carried out a deliberate car ramming attack, which left an Israeli police officer dead. Israeli police also said they were investigating to see whether or not the slain Bedouin was “influenced” by the so-called Islamic State.

Numerous eyewitness accounts said that al-Qian lost control of his vehicle after he was shot, causing him to crash into Israeli police.

"Israeli police are trying to cover up the crime of displacing and uprooting a whole town and killing an unarmed Arab citizen through an incitement campaign against all Arab citizens, by spreading misinformation that a police officer was killed in a terrorist, ISIS-like attack."

The statement urged Hebrew-language news outlets to ensure that they work “professionally” and fact-check their information before they publish their news reports.

“When media outlets take the information they receive from Israeli police as facts, they in fact partake in incitement against Arab citizens,” the statement argued.

Human rights organization Adalah also said Wednesday that they strongly objected to Israeli police’s version of events in Umm al-Hiran according to witness accounts.

They group said the police statements, “reflects the Israeli police's culture of lying,” and referred to recent accusations by Israeli authorities claiming that a string of wildfires were deliberate arson attacks committed by Palestinians, saying that the claims had “not been proven at all. Not one person has been convicted based on these accusations.”

Rights groups have claimed that demolitions in unrecognized Bedouin villages is a central Israeli policy aimed at removing the indigenous Palestinian population from the Negev and transferring them to government-zoned townships to make room for the expansion of Jewish Israeli communities.

According to Adalah, families of the Abu al-Qian tribe were initially expelled from their lands in Khirbet Zubaleh in 1948 after they had cultivated the area for generations, and were eventually forced to move to Umm al-Hiran by an Israeli military order.

“Despite this, the state has not legally recognized the village to this day. As a result of the decision to establish the Israeli Jewish town of Hiran over the Bedouin village, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) demanded to expel them again, to the government-planned town of Hura.”

According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Israeli government approved the construction of the new Jewish community of Hiran in November 2013 to be built on the land of Umm al-Hiran. Village residents lost the legal defenses they mounted, including an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, and were unable to prevent the demolition of the village.

“Palestinians from Umm al-Hiran have Israeli passports and citizenship, yet the Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing, colonization, forcible displacement, and apartheid affect them all the same,” Maya al-Orzza, a legal researcher at NGO BADIL said Wednesday.

“These policies do not only happen in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also inside Israel against Palestinians,” al-Orzza said, noting that Palestinians make up some 20 percent of Israeli citizens.

Commenting on a peace conference held in Paris on Sunday which reaffirmed international commitment to the two-state solution and the cessation of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory, al-Orzza said that “by focusing on the one- or two-state discussion, or only on Israeli actions in the occupied territory, the international community is disregarding the ongoing policies of ethnic cleansing that Israel is implementing against Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
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