JERUSALEM — Sergeant Major Erez Levi, a 34-year-old police officer was killed during a riot at the unrecognized Bedouin village of Um Al Hiran. Ya’akub Musa Abu al-Qian, a school teacher who lives in the village was also killed. Several residents and police officers were injured, including MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List.
Police claim Abu al-Qian was shot in self-defense, after he deliberately rammed his SUV into a group of police officers, fatally hitting Erez Levi. Security sources describe him as a terrorist active in the Islamist Movement.
Adallah, a major civil rights Arab NGO has challenged the accusations, saying he was a teacher with no record of political activism.
The riot broke out early Wednesday, Jan. 18, when a large force of police officers entered the village to implement a court-sanctioned demolition order against an illegally built house in the village.
Residents started attacking the police officers, and a riot broke out, during which al-Qian allegedly rammed police with his car.
As of press time, there are conflicting reports as to the injuries suffered by Odeh. Magen David Adom reported he had been hit by a rock, but media reports indicate he may have been shot with sponge tipped non-lethal bullets. Soroka Hospital said they could not determine the cause of his injuries.
The village has a history of legal battles with the Israeli government and has long been the scene of clashes.
The site was founded by the Abu al-Qian family in 1956 after being resettled to the area by the IDF and the military government at the time. According to Regavim, the family numbered approximately 50 people at the time, but has grown more than 500% over the past two decades.
The clan was never given ownership of the land, but the government has offered the group 800 square-meter plots in the nearby city of Houra, a Bedouin town built by the government in 1989 to provide homes for residents of unrecognized villages.
Umm al-Hiran residents have rejected the offer. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the village should be demolished.
In response to the clash, Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said the incident was a “tragic event” for Israel.
“A terrorist belonging to the Islamic Movement raced toward our forces in order to kill as many police officers as he could, even prior to the evacuation of the village.”
Erdan also sharply criticized Odeh’s presence there, which Erdan said was intended to incite violence.
“I hope that this day will not become a turning point in relations between the Bedouin and state authorities. But if it does, MK Odeh will have contributed greatly. Government officials and local authorities [of the Bedouin village] have been negotiating for weeks, but MK Ayman Odeh was not party to them. He was only there to inflame passions and incite violence.”
Erdan promised that the Supreme Court decision to demolish the village will be implemented. “Violence and terror will not win over the rule of law,” he said.
Regavim, an Israeli NGO that pursues legal action against construction undertaken without proper Israeli permits, said violence during the evacuation was “the result of incitement by extremist Islamic elements, Arab Knesset members from the Joint List and extreme leftist groups which work day-and-night to disrupt the rule of law in the Negev.
The NGO urged the Bedouin community to “to move quickly and act against Islamic extremism that has been running rampant over the past few years.
“We urge the Israeli government and law enforcement authorities to open a criminal investigation [into this incident], to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to continue to enforce the rule of law in the Negev.”
A police spokesman said that security forces started demolishing the illegal buildings at Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday morning.
Security forces are protecting Civil Administration teams, and the work is reportedly proceeding without further disturbances.