Controversy erupted on Wednesday over conflicting reports regarding an incident in Umm al-Hiran, a Palestinian Bedouin village facing demolition in the Negev, where two people — one Palestinian civilian and an Israeli police officer — were killed.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli forces shot at a truck driving through the village, making the driver lose control and run over an officer, while Israeli officials have reported that the Palestinian was shot and killed after purposefully running over and killing the Israeli officer.
Those challenging the Israeli narrative of what took place in the village have pointed to grainy drone footage, released after the incident, which allegedly shows Israeli forces opening fire before the driver sped up and hit the officer.
Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesperson, identified the Israeli officer as Advanced staff Sergeant major Erez Levi, 34.
Rosenfeld said Levi “was killed this morning when a terrorist drove his vehicle into a policeman during operations in the Negev.”
Palestinian officials identified the Bedouin who was shot dead as Yaqoub Abu al-Qian, 47. Ma’an News Agency reported that al-Qian was a math teacher at al-Salam High School in Hura village.
The incident took place during a protest against Israeli home demolitions in the village.
While Israeli officials and media have linked al-Qian to the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, village activist Raed Abu al-Qian told AFP news agency that the slain driver had no affiliation with the group, and that he was just a normal resident who owned one of several buildings scheduled for demolition in Umm al-Hiran.
“The Israeli narrative is a lie,” he told AFP. “He was a revered school teacher. He has no relations with the Islamic Movement.”
Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh, who heads the Arab Joint List, along with a number of other protesters, was injured during the demonstration. Video footage shows Odeh on the ground bleeding after he was shot in the head and back by sponge rounds.
Active Stills, a photo agency based in Israel, shared on Twitter photos of Oden laying on the ground bleeding from his head while surrounded by Israeli forces seemingly ignoring the injured MK.
At least 1 Palestinian citizen of Israel killed, many wounded, by Israeli troops while attempting to demolish houses in Umm Al-Hiran, Israel pic.twitter.com/jr06L2l3UH
— Activestills (@activestills) January 18, 2017
Joint List MKs Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalqa, Ahmad Tibi, and Aida Touma-Suleiman were also in attendance, according to Ma’an News Agency.
Hours later, the Joint List released a statement in Arabic, translated and published by Ma’an, which accused Israeli police of releasing an untruthful account of the events to media.
Ma’an’s report said 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.”
Adalah, which has represented the Bedouin residents of Umm al-Hiran in legal proceedings over the past 13 years to stop the village’s demolition, condemned the incident, putting full blame for both deaths on the Israeli establishment.
In the statement, Adalah said “the Israeli police proved yet again today that it perceives Arab citizens as an enemy. The police are light on the trigger when it comes to Arab citizens, and too many times the police who have fired weapons and killed have received immunity from the Police Investigation Unit.”
Gush Shalom, an Israeli activist group headed by former Israeli MK Uri Avnery, is holding protests condemning the deadly incident, which will take place Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In a statement, the group said “the direct responsibility for today’s dangerous escalation and bloodshed … rests upon those who took the decision to destroy a Bedouin village which had existed for decades, completely raze and wipe it off the face of the earth, to expel the residents and establish a Jewish ‘community’ in its place.
According to Adalah documentation, the al-Qian tribe, who currently live in Umm al-Hiran, were originally expelled from their lands in Khirbet Zubaleh in 1948 and relocated to what is now known as Umm al-Hiran in the 1950s.
While the village was founded as a result of Israeli displacement policies, the Israeli government never recognized the village, or its right to exist, and now, after a 2013 court ruling, plans to demolish the village in order to establish an Israeli community called “Hiran” in its place.
Um al-Hiran is one of 40 “unrecognized” Bedouin villages, home to tens of thousands of residents, in the Negev scheduled for demolitions.
Because of their “unrecognised” status, many villages in the Negev are denied access to regular electricity, water and other services.
“The Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to allow the state to proceed with its plan to demolish the village, which has existed for 60 years, in order to establish a Jewish town called ‘Hiran’ over its ruins, is one of the most racist judgments that the Court has ever issued,” the Adalah statement said. “The Israeli government and its leaders then took advantage of this court decision to continue its home demolition policy against Arab communities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials regularly praise the use of state violence against Arab citizens, such as that used today in Umm al-Hiran.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement emailed to reporters, “Today’s violence in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran amid evictions of local Bedouin residents to make way for construction of a new Jewish town follows a pattern of excessive force used by the Israeli police. As in the West Bank, Israel discriminates against Bedouins and Palestinians more generally inside its borders in its planning policies, which seek to maximize control of land for Jewish communities. Israel should investigate the killings, hold those responsible to account and abandon the discriminatory plan to raze Umm al-Hiran.”