According to the daily Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct has recommended that the files against the police officers involved in the January 2017 assault on Joint List Chairman, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) in the Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran be closed.
The confrontation between the policemen and Odeh occurred following an incident on January 18, 2017, in which Arab-Bedouin school teacher Yacoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an, 47, was fatally shot by police and policeman Erez Levy was killed when run down by the victim’s car which went out of control after the driver was mortally wounded. Odeh and others were trying to reach the scene of the shooting. In a video recorded by an Al Jazeera correspondent, a policeman is seen pepper-spraying Odeh. Policemen then fired sponge-tipped bullets at his group, one of which hit Odeh in the head. The MK was later treated in hospital.
A law enforcement source told Haaretz that the police investigation into the incident was characterized by foot-dragging. The policemen who fired sponge-tipped bullets were only questioned five months after the event. The use of pepper spray was only investigated after a further five months. The Justice Ministry unit questioned 10 policemen under caution, all of whom were colleagues of Sergeant Erez.
Haaretz has learned that none of the policemen had mentioned the confrontation with Odeh in their reports, and investigators could not identify the officer who used the pepper spray, even though the entire incident was documented on videotape. All the policemen had their faces masked at the time of the incident. One senior police officer identified his men on the video and they were summoned for questioning. They claimed they did not know who had used the pepper spray. The lack of credibility behind these claims led to an obstruction of justice investigation as well.
The policeman who used the pepper spray was ultimately identified and questioned. According to knowledgeable sources, the responsible officer confessed immediately. In his defense the cop claimed that he had repeatedly asked Odeh and the others to leave the scene because of ongoing protests by Arab-Bedouin and because he believed that the car ramming was a terror attack – something which an Internal Security (“Shin Bet”) investigation later contradicted.
It later became apparent that some of the policemen involved attempted to hinder the investigation, with an officer advising some of them, including men under his direct command, on how to behave during questioning. This officer used the unit’s WhatsApp group to share a video in which he was shown during his own initial interview by investigators, at which time he was asked to identify the men involved in the incident. For this, the Justice Ministry unit recommended disciplinary action against him and another policeman.
The Ministry’s investigating unit ultimately decided that it was “not possible” to determine that Odeh had been hit by a sponge-tipped bullet and that criminal charges against the pepper-spraying policeman were unwarranted. Furthermore, no criminal charges of obstruction of justice recommended, since the WhatsApp video was also available to anyone on YouTube; therefore the investigating unit only recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the police officers in question.