JERUSALEM – It took nearly four years for the Israeli government to apologize to a Bedouin family in the Negev desert after a relative whose car was fatally run over by a police officer and who was killed by police fire was hastily and mistakenly identified as a terrorist.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally turned to injustice this week, publicly apologizing to the family of the slain man, Yakub Abu al-Qayan. But his presentation outraged many current and former officials, who accused Mr Netanyahu of cynically exploiting the tragic case as part of his wider campaign to discredit law enforcement and the judiciary before his corruption process entered a critical phase. next months.
“I apologize to the Al Qayan family, whose head, an Israeli citizen, was killed,” Mr Netanyahu said on Tuesday. “They said he was a terrorist. Yesterday it turned out that he was not a terrorist. “
The belated apology came a day after television news claimed that police and the state prosecutor’s office had covered up the real – and accidental – circumstances of Mr al-Qayan’s and the policeman’s deaths in order to maintain police confidence and integrity. of the criminal investigation against Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Al Qayan’s family welcomed the apology, but said that, to be honest, he should come and see the family and pay them compensation.
“First, a little is better than nothing,” Salim Abu al-Qayan, the dead man’s son-in-law and cousin, said of the apology. “Of course, Netanyahu played this card to his advantage,” he added in an interview, describing the prime minister as a cunning politician.
At the time, the Department of Internal Police Investigations, under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, conducted a preliminary investigation, and the Internal Security Agency Shin Bet also examined evidence at the scene. But in May 2018, the public prosecutor at the time decided that it was impossible to say definitively whether Mr Al-Kian had deliberately rammed his car into a police officer, Advanced Staff Sgt. Erez-Shaul Levy, or lost control of the car after being shot by police who came on a pre-dawn attack to demolish part of the village.
The police commissioner at the time continued to insist that Mr Al-Qayan was a terrorist. And the state prosecutor decided not to open any criminal investigation into the police’s behavior, on the grounds that even if they had mistakenly shot Mr al-Qayan, they had acted on the basis of the best understanding of the situation at the time.
But the twisted twist TV report claims that the state prosecutor and other legal authorities have whitewashed police misconduct in this and other unrelated cases, preferring to maintain their internal working relationship and avoid giving ammunition to Mr Netanyahu. against them.
Since then, many details of the TV report have been denied by relevant authorities, including the former state prosecutor. However, Mr Netanyahu took advantage of him, saying that “it became clear that senior figures in the State Prosecutor’s Office and the police had turned him into a terrorist in order to defend themselves and hurt me”.
Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general and another target of Mr Netanyahu’s anger, condemned Mr Netanyahu’s allegations in a scathing statement Wednesday. Mr Mandelblit said there was no connection between the events in Umm al-Hiran, the ensuing investigation and Mr Netanyahu, adding that all such allegations were “false, an invention out of nowhere, the overall aim of which is to delegate law enforcement to the system and its decisions concerning the Prime Minister. “
Mr Netanyahu has been tried in three graft cases on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The trial is due to move at high speed in January with three court hearings a week. Mr Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing and accused the media, police and the justice system of conspiring to hunt witches against him and his family. He called for an investigation of his investigators.
Amid the escalating conflict between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Mandelblit, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Wednesday that Mr Mandelblitt’s team was consulting on whether Mr Netanyahu should be declared incompetent because of his attempts to undermine the cases against him. Mr Mandelblitt’s office said it was not calling on Mr Netanyahu to leave and would not comment on internal discussions.
Sergeant Levy’s parents, the dead policeman, also condemned Mr Netanyahu’s change. Convinced that their son was the victim of a deliberate attack, they told the Israeli media that they were ashamed of Mr Netanyahu, “who sacrificed our son at the altar of his own political interests.”
The evacuation of Um al-Hiran came as part of a long-running land dispute between the Bedouins and the government, which wanted to demolish the village to pave the way for a new city of Hiran, planned mainly for Jewish families.
The police had arrived early and in force that day in 2017. Mr. Al-Qayan, a math teacher at about age 50, was driving his car on the road at the end of the village before the sun rose. Salim, his cousin, said he was the last person to talk to Mr Al-Qayan on the phone just minutes before he was killed.
“I told him they were coming to destroy houses,” the cousin said at the time. “He said he did not want violence. I told him to come to us. ”
Footage shown on Israeli television tonight showed an officer opening fire on Mr al-Qayan’s car before he picked up speed and crashed into a group of police officers on a steep slope.
Israeli police and government officials immediately declared him intentionally beating cars and portrayed Mr al-Qayan as an Islamic extremist. But the police version of events was immediately challenged by Mr Al-Qayan’s relatives and human rights activists who came to support the villagers.
Speaking on the phone from the Negev on Thursday, Salim al-Qayan said the apology was a start. But he said the family had wanted more than three years for a special investigation into the episode. “We deserve the truth,” he said, “even though we knew it from the beginning.”