Bedouin Israeli, police officer killed during clashes over Negev home demolitions

(JTA) – An Israeli policeman and a Bedouin Israeli were killed in the unauthorized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, where Israeli forces were demolishing several homes.

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, also was injured in the head and back by sponge-tipped bullets fired by Israeli forces during the clashes on Wednesday morning.

Eight homes were demolished by Wednesday afternoon.

Police officer Erez Levy, 34, was killed when a car driven by local Bedouin schoolteacher Yacoub Abu al Kiyan, 50, struck a group of security forces at the site of the demolitions. Some news reports say that al Kiyan’s home was among those demolished. His relatives told Israeli and Arab media that al Kiyan was shot while driving to work, which caused him to lose control of the car and speed up, crashing into the officers.

Aerial Israeli police footage of the incident appears to show the car moving slowly when police open fire.

Israeli police and lawmakers called the incident a car ramming attack.

“This is the second ramming attack in as many days,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following the incident. “We are fighting this murderous phenomenon, which has struck both Israel and the world. The State of Israel is, above all, a nation of law in which there will be equal enforcement. Not only will this incident not deter us, it will strengthen us. It will strengthen our determination to enforce the law everywhere.”

Netanyahu called on lawmakers to cool their rhetoric and a reminded Israelis that the Bedouin are part of Israeli society. “I ask everyone, especially members of the Knesset, to be responsible, to stop fanning emotions and inciting toward violence. The Bedouin public is part of us; we want to integrate it into Israeli society and not radicalize it and push it away from the centre of our life experience. The police are operating on the ground with authority and nobody has the right to interfere with their mission,” he said.

Odeh said in a statement after leaving the hospital that Netanyahu backtracked on an agreement related to the home demolitions which would have prevented the violence.

“Let me be clear: it was possible to prevent the spilling of blood. We were in negotiations until late into the night. I took part in the negotiations. We almost closed it. We reached a compromise that the residents of Umm al-Hiran accepted. But Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has already painted the Arab population as Public Enemy Number One, decided himself to cruelly destroy a whole village, to kick and punch children, women, and men. I call for the establishment of an official special investigative committee to investigate all of the events of the last several days,” Odeh said in a statement distributed in English.

“In the Negev, there is room for everyone, Jews and Arabs. It is unacceptable that there are unrecognized villages without water or electricity, without an educational system for the children,” he said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accused Odeh of incitement.

A Jewish town is slated to be built on the village’s land, with the 1,000 residents of the unrecognized village moving to Hura, one of several recognized Bedouin villages built by Israel in the Negev. Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that the land belongs to the state and upheld the decision to destroy the illegally built homes in an appeal brought by residents.

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