This week, the UK-based Forensic Architecture released an astonishing 30-minute documentary of the ethnic-cleansing operation by Israeli security forces at Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the southern Naqab (Negev), as part of the preparation for an exclusively Jewish town to be built upon its ruins – Hiran.
The bloody events of January 18th 2017 included two deaths: resident citizen Yaqub Mousa abu al-Qia’an, who was executed by Israeli police, and police 1st Sgt. Erez Levy, who was run down by Abu al-Qia’an’s car, after the latter was shot by police in his knee and chest, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and roll down the hill. Al-Qia’an was left to bleed to death for 20 minutes despite the presence of three intensive care units on location. The police and government framed the event as a “terror attack”, although it was clear to the Shin Bet security service within a few hours, that this was a police blunder.
Despite evidence that clearly countered the “terror” narrative, it took a month and a half until Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel issued a qualified apology, “if there really was a failure at Umm al-Hiran”, yet no policeman was charged and the investigations were closed.
But there was yet another direct victim at Umm al-Hiran, one with a high profile – Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh.
Odeh was first pepper-sprayed at point-blank range, and shortly after, shot with sponge-tip bullets – one to the forehead, and then when he crouched and turned around in response, one to the back. He fell shortly after.
This March, Odeh appealed the closing of the cases involving his targeting by the police. The cases were investigated by the Justice Ministry department which oversees the police, yet, the department took the police’s narrative that Odeh was not targeted by sponge-tip bullets at all, and that he may have been hit by stones (which were not being thrown on location), or stun-grenade fragments. The bullet issue was closed for “lack of evidence” and the pepper-spray episode was closed for “lack of guilt”.
Yet the documentary by Forensic Architecture, a masterpiece collage involving various angles of footage, 3D and timeline models, shows that the footage evidence provided by the police had a big hole in it – lasting 47 seconds – which was the calculated timeslot where Odeh was targeted. This “hole” existed in multiple footings from live cams, so there was a deliberate omission of a critical part of the event. Eyal Weizmann of Forensic Architecture concludes:
“What we see is a persistent effort to manipulate the evidence, including the failure to provide evidence.”
Josh Breiner in Haaretz suggests that “now, with publication of the new information, it is likely that the investigation of Odeh’s injury will be reopened.” Forensic Architecture will be screening its documentary titled “A Long Duration of a Split Second” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, as part of its 2019 biennial, through September.
It is important to note the various layers of criminality and incitement from bottom to top in this episode, because they are inter-connected.
Ayman Odeh was blamed for the supposed “terror” by Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan. Erdan is the Minister in charge of the Police, and he was saying that Odeh had “blood on his hands” for what had happened. In this “terror” narrative, the only victim was the Israeli policeman, and Abu al-Qia’an was a dead, “neutralized” terrorist. Odeh, having come to protest, was now framed as an inciter.
The police declared a series of lies. They said that Al-Qia’an had driven without lights – the combined footage discredits this. Then they said that police fired warning shots in the air. The footage and forensic evidence shows they fired directly at him. They said he accelerated down to deliberately ram the policeman – but the scene reenactment actually shows that he didn’t even have to press the gas pedal to roll down the hill at that speed – he simply lost control, due to the shooting by the police. The police left Abu al-Qia’an to bleed to death – so actually, in the end, the police killed two people – both abu Al-Qia’an as well as their own Sergeant Erez Levy. But no one was charged.
How Odeh’s targeting is connected with Abu al-Qia’an
Odeh and other leftist activists came to the scene in anticipation of the demolition in the early morning hours. When Abu al-Qia’an was shot, his car rolled down the hill and eventually stopped when it hit another car. At this point, witness reports note a continuous sound of the horn, which continues for about an hour.
The activists, including Odeh, were drawn closer to the car by that sound. Actually, they could have helped save him, but the police were rebuffing them violently.
That is why the incident with Odeh is so important, as he and other activists were right there and tried to get to him [Abu al-Qia’an] to help him, which could have saved his life.
Let’s pause here for a moment. Ayman Odeh is not a terrorist with blood on his hands. Ayman Odeh is a hero, who came to a scene of ethnic cleansing to protest it, and he would have been instrumental in saving an fellow Palestinian Bedouin Israeli citizen, had he not been rebuffed violently by the Israeli police goons, who assumed that an Arab is a terrorist until proven otherwise.
And the targeting of Odeh continued from there, it was not enough that he was physically targeted – he was also targeted for incitement as a terror-supporter with “blood on his hands” in the aftermath. This is very similar to what happened to Yaqub Abu al-Qia’an. As Yaqub’s brother, Ahmed, said in response to the autopsy findings:
They murdered him not once but several times. They murdered him when they shot him and they murdered him when they left him in the car bleeding, and they murdered him when they said he rammed the car [into the police officers].
The manipulation of evidence has served as part of an incitement campaign against Ayman Odeh. The full evidence would exonerate him and confirm his testimony – and demonstrate once again that the police lied.
Partial evidence pointing to the targeting of Odeh with sponge-tipped bullets was to be gleaned from a leak that came out on Israeli television (Channel 10) 1.5 years after the event – this was camera footage from one of the policemen’s cameras just before the shooting of Odeh – here the commander says “give them sponge, give them sponge!”, and they are clearly discussing that Ayman Odeh is there, that he’s a lawmaker – the police know who they are dealing with. One policeman is heard shouting “You maniac – you’re a member of Knesset?!” – yet the continuance of the footage omits the 47 critical seconds, and continues with footage of a stun-grenade explosion, which the police then claimed was the cause of Odeh’s injuries. That is, the police claimed that shrapnel from the grenade hit Odeh. The narration of the footage on Channel 10 says that the calls to “give them sponge” were not followed up by actual shooting. Channel 10 literally narrated:
Yet here, against MK Odeh, the call ‘give them sponge’ is not followed by actual shooting.
But Forensic Architecture managed to synchronize the many footages and concluded unequivocally that two seconds after the “give them sponge” call, the footage cuts for 47 seconds – precisely the timeslot wherein Odeh was hit. It is precisely when the original cam footage returns, that the stun grenade is launched.
In other words, the police doctored the footage to omit the critical shooting, and Channel 10 unwittingly served as its mouthpiece of malicious, inciteful propaganda.
Weizmann narrates in the documentary:
Three months after the Channel 10 broadcast, the Prosecutor closed the investigation against the policeman involved. This video might have contributed to that decision.
A pattern of incitement against Odeh
Incitement against Odeh is a special hobby of the Likud government. When Odeh recently came to speak at the Tel Aviv rally protesting Netanayhu’s moves to secure immunity against corruption charges, the Likud called him a “terror supporter”, to discredit the whole event. It’s worth noting nonetheless that this was a highly hypocritical orientalist rally, where the organizing Blue White opposition leader Benny Gantz was quietly yet highly reluctant to let Odeh speak to begin with, where leader Moshe Yaalon was openly opposed to Odeh speaking, and where two other leading Blue White members (Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser) boycotted the demonstration because of Odeh’s presence. So Odeh wasn’t exactly being welcomed here, but he came anyway in attempt to affect change. The point here is, that there is this pattern of incitement, coming mainly from the right (but also subscribed to by the center) against Ayman Odeh as a representation of something Arab. Odeh is the most prominent Palestinian-Israeli leader, leading the Hadash-Ta’al party, and he is a man who seeks peace. Yet his challenging of Israel’s systemic oppression and violence is enough for Israeli leaders to try to label him as a “terrorist”.
Those few critical moments at Umm al-Hiran and the saga that unfolded thereafter, are a microcosm of Israeli settler-colonialist violence. This contains so many elements: Ethnic cleansing; extrajudicial assassination based on racial profiling; general violence against leaders of the racial group; incitement against them; lying and manipulating in order to cover-up the crimes. The incitement against Odeh, like in the case of the murdered Abu al-Qia’an, cannot be reduced to a mere personal character-assassination. These people are by extension representatives of Palestinians as a whole, and the incitement against these individuals is an incitement against all Palestinians.
Finally, this needs to be emphasized once again: All that we are speaking of here, has taken place not in 1967 occupied territories, but in what is called “Israel proper”.
H/t Ofer Neiman