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Protests continue as rights groups demand probe into deadly Umm al-Hiran raid

Jan. 23, 2017 5:22 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 24, 2017 12:28 P.M.)
Demonstration held at Israeli Supreme Court demanding the release of Yaqoub Abu al-Qian's body
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A protest convoy set off Monday morning, in the wake of the demolition of dozens of homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel in recent weeks, as details continued to unfold over a deadly demolition raid in the unrecognized Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran.

At least ten Palestinian homes were demolished in the city of Qalansawe on Jan. 10, while more than a dozen Palestinian structures were razed to the ground in the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran the following week after an Israeli police raid to evacuate villagers left two people killed.

Convoys set off from Qalansawe in central Israel and from the Negev in the south on Monday to converge at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in Jerusalem, in a demonstration involving more than 250 cars, according to Israeli news site Arab 48.

Protesters raised Palestinian flags and black flags as a sign of mourning for Yaqoub Abu al-Qian, a local math teacher in Umm al-Hiran who was shot and killed by Israeli police under widely contested circumstances before authorities demolished houses in the village.

The convey caused traffic to come to a halt on Jerusalem’s Street 6, as protesters rejected demands from Israeli police to evacuate and clear the traffic jam.

Arab 48 reported that Israeli police issued several traffic citations to demonstrators, with Israeli police detaining Qalansawe-based lawyer Ahmad Ghazawi for resisting police measures.

Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samari said that police were "organizing traffic" near the Knesset building, and demanded that “all parties act responsibly and only conduct licensed and legal protests.”

Knesset member Jamal Zahalqa of the Joint List coalition told reporters that the protest was aimed at putting a halt to demolitions and also demanded that Israeli authorities release body of slain Abu al-Qian.

“This state is dealing with the Arab housing crisis by carrying out demolitions instead of construction. It is a state that only constructs for Jews while demolishing the homes of others, and yet claims to be a democracy,” he said.

Israel continues to hold body of slain Bedouin

While numerous eyewitnesses have insisted Abu al-Qian was posing no threat to anyone when Israeli police opened fire at his vehicle, causing him to lose control of the car and ram into officers, Israeli authorities have claimed the local math teacher was carrying out a deliberate terrorist attack in the incident that left one policeman killed.

Due to the allegations, Israel has imposed a number of preconditions on the Abu al-Qian family to release his body, as part of the Israeli state’s policy of withholding bodies of alleged attackers on the grounds that their funerals become sites of “incitement” against Israel.

The Israeli Supreme Court convened convened on Monday afternoon to look into an appeal filed by Palestinian legal aid organization Adalah and the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights on behalf of Abu al-Qian’s wife, to demand the immediate release of Abu al-Qian’s body without preconditions.

According to Hebrew-language media, the state argued during the hearing that the body would not be returned because Abu al-Qian "deliberately ran over an Israeli police officer,” expressing concerns that clashes could break out during the funeral.

"The family refused the stipulations proposed by police for the funeral, and in light of this refusal, there are concerns that extremist groups could take advantage of the funeral to inflame clashes and violence," the state said in its response to the appeal.

Palestinian MK Talab Abu Arar of the Joint List told Ma'an in Jerusalem that the claims were “unacceptable,” and said that mourners would “maintain order during the funeral in respect for the martyr."

Palestinian MK Ahmad Tibi, who was also present at the Supreme Court hearing, said on Twitter in response to the Israeli policy of imposing preconditions on funerals that "we at least want to be equal in death," rejecting police intervention in the burial and mourning process for slain Palestinians.
MK Ahmad Tibi addresses reporters at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem

Details over deadly Umm al-Hiran raid continue to unfold

The Abu al-Qian family has meanwhile demanded an investigation into the killing itself, and on Monday, rights groups also announced that they had appealed to the Israeli Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department (PID) to open a criminal probe into how and why police allegedly shot MK Ayman Odeh during the Umm al-Hiran clashes.

Odeh, who is the head of the Joint List and also leads the socialist Hadash party, said he was shot in the head by police with a sponge-tipped bullet while he and other Palestinian MKs had gathered to support locals resisting the demolitions.
MK Ayman Odeh, after being injured in the head during Umm al-Hiran clashes

A statement issued by Adalah and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel said they had requested the investigation because police actions during the clashes “raised the suspicion of the illegal use of force and illegal use of firearms. The officers’ actions violated Israeli law and constitute an infringement of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

Some police officials have been quoted in Israeli media as saying that Odeh was struck not by police fire, but by rocks thrown inadvertently in his direction by protesters.

According to Times of Israel, hospital officials at Soroka medical center where Odeh was treated had said medical staff could not determine whether Odeh was struck by rocks or crowd-control ordnance, also reporting that the wounds were examined at a forensic medical center, but the results of the examination have not yet been made public.

However, the rights groups said in their appeal to the PID that photos of Odeh’s wounds matched wounds created by sponge-tipped bullets, and that such bullets were found on the ground beside those who had been hit at Umm al-Hiran, including Odeh.

The appeal also demanded an investigation into the police’s media department, accusing spokespersons of misleading the public about the events at Umm al-Hiran, reiterating remarks made by the Joint List that also accused police of a deliberate cover-up.

“Publicizing utterly baseless claims about MK Odeh’s injury from rock throwing, or his involvement in or abetting of an [alleged] car-ramming terror attack, amounts to willful misleading of the public, and reaches the level of incitement,” rights groups’ statement said.

Meanwhile, Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that new eyewitnesses had come forward in exclusive interviews saying that Israeli police also fired at an unmarked police vehicle during the deadly incident, wounding at least two people inside.

The witnesses also reiterated testimonies given by numerous others that Abu al-Qian had been driving slowly and posing no threat before police opened fire at him, which then caused him to accelerate his vehicle into the group of officers.

The report also said a senior police spokesman declined to say whether an officer wounded during the incident was run over Abu al-Qian’s vehicle or shot by other policemen, raising new questions about the police account.
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