The case against police officers suspected of assaulting Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, during the planned evacuation of the Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, on January 18, 2017, was closed on Thursday, September 20, with the approval of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. Keren Bar Menachem, the head of the Justice Ministry department responsible for investigating police officers, informed Odeh of the decision.
The evacuation of Umm al-Hiran did not take place at the time of the incident because of a violent protests, in which a police officer, Erez Levi, and a resident of the community, the teacher Yacoub Musa Abu al-Qee’an, were killed.
The Justice Ministry inquiry looked into two allegations made by Odeh: first, that he was pepper-sprayed by police; second, that he was hit in the head and injured by a sponge-tipped bullet intentionally fired at him by police. The first allegation was dismissed due to investigators’ conclusion that no crime was committed. Bar Menachem made this decision based on her accepting the police’s stated assumption that, at the time of the incident, al-Qee’an had purposely run down police officers with his vehicle causing officer Levi’s death or, in other words, a terrorist attack had taken place. (This assumption was later proved to be false and investigators determined that al-Qee’an lost control of his car and rammed three police officers after he had first been shot and mortally wounded.) In order to keep Odeh and other protestors from approaching the scene, according the Bar Menachem, the use of pepper spray, “was not a crime given the circumstances because of the operational necessity to prevent undesirable and unauthorized entry to the scene of the incident,”
Bar Menachm rejected the second charge related to Odeh’s head wound based on “lack of evidence.” Odeh maintains that his head injury was caused by a sponge-tipped bullet intentionally fired by police during the planned eviction; however the police claimed that Odeh was hit in the head by a rock thrown by a protestor at police but which hit Odeh instead. Regarding this charge, Bar Menachem added that while the police officers admitted that they had fired tear gas grenades during the incident, Justice Ministry investigators were unable to prove that this is what led to an intentional injury to Odeh. In doing so she entirely ignored Odeh’s contention that he was hit by a a sponge-tipped bullet, thereby whitewashing any conceivable police guilt.
Over 20 police officers were questioned in the case. A number of them, including an officer with the rank of superintendent, were suspected of obstructing the investigation after they provided other police officers with information on the case before the latter were questioned. These matters were referred to the police’s internal disciplinary department.
In response to the closing of the case, Odeh said that once again the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct “has excelled in covering up [what actually happened] and has failed in putting the police officers on trial for violence against civilians. The police knew I was a Knesset member during the incident and chose from the very start of the investigation to lie concerning the use of tear gas and the fact that I was hit with a sponge-tipped bullet, too. The closing of the case, after over a year and a half from the time of the incident, is worrying and proves that there is no true intention whatsoever to investigate what really happened.” Odeh said he intends on asking to see all the materials from the investigation so he can appeal the Justice Ministry’s decision to close the case.