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Protesters call for Israeli investigation into Umm al-Hiran deaths

By
Eric DuVall
Israeli police special forces stand guard after demolishing houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Haran, in the Negev, near the southern city of Beer Sheva, Israel on Wednesday. Violent clashes resulted in the death of a police and of a local resident, with protesters calling for an investigation into what caused the fatal encounter. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
Israeli police special forces stand guard after demolishing houses in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Haran, in the Negev, near the southern city of Beer Sheva, Israel on Wednesday. Violent clashes resulted in the death of a police and of a local resident, with protesters calling for an investigation into what caused the fatal encounter. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Protesters and pro-Arab groups are calling on the Israeli government to investigate the circumstances surrounding a deadly clash between police and Bedouin villagers this week that killed a police officer and a man witnesses said was an innocent civilian.

The clash took place in the Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran, in the southern Negev desert on Wednesday. Israeli courts issued a ruling agreeing with the government that the Bedouin villagers who have lived in Umm al-Hiran since they were relocated there in 1950 did not have a legal claim to the land. In the wake of the ruling, police issued a string of warnings for villagers to disperse before their homes were demolished.

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The demolition began early Wednesday amid a chaotic scene and cries of government overreach by Arab-Israeli politicians.

During the incident, a vehicle driven by Yacoub Abu al-Kiyan charged a police convoy, striking it and killing officer Erez Levi, 34. In the wake of the incident, Israeli police called al-Kiyan a "terrorist" seeking to take out Israeli law enforcement.

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But witnesses and relatives of al-Kiyan fiercely disputed the police account. They said al-Kiyan, 50, a local math teacher, was trying to drive to work during the early-morning chaos and police began firing on his vehicle. Witnesses said al-Kiyan was shot and killed and his vehicle continued moving forward until it smashed into the police line, killing Levi.

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Witnesses also said police refused to allow paramedics to give al-Kiyan first aid after the accident, making it unclear whether he was killed by a police bullet, as witnesses contended.

Several Israeli media outlets repeated the police account that a "terrorist" attack against officers had taken place during the controversial village razing.

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Protesters in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Jaffa each called for a halt to the demolitions and government investigations. Adalah, a group supporting Arab-Israeli minority rights, called for the Israeli Justice Ministry's Police Investigation Division to undertake an impartial review of police procedures in Umm al-Hiram that led to the fatal encounter.

Adalah also called for an autopsy of al-Kiyan's body to determine his cause of death.

Protesters also heaped scorn on Israeli media for repeating the government's version of events without offering their side of the story.

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"I don't understand why the media repeated these lies," Yeela Raanan of the Regional Council on Unrecognized Villages told the Jerusalem Post. "I am so full of pain from what they are doing in Umm al-Hiran and for the feelings of my friends who are told they are not good enough to stay there."

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