New evidence backs Arab MK’s claims that police shot him

An investigation by a London-based research center shows MK Ayman Odeh was shot with a sponge-tipped bullet during clashes in Umm al-Hiran in 2017. Police repeatedly claimed he was hit by a stone thrown by one of the protesters.

MK Ayman Odeh lies wounded from sponge-tipped bullets next to Israeli police in the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran, Negev, January 18, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)
MK Ayman Odeh lies wounded from sponge-tipped bullets next to Israeli police in the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran, Negev, January 18, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

New evidence suggests Israeli police shot Palestinian Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh in the head with a sponge-tipped bullet during a home demolition in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in 2017, according to a final investigation report published earlier this week by the London-based Forensic Architecture research center.

According to a digital analysis based on footage provided by the police, Israeli journalists, and left-wing activists, Odeh was hit just moments after police shot Umm al-Hiran resident Yacoub Abu al-Qi’an on January 18, 2017. According to the Forensic Architecture investigation, Abu al-Qi’an lost control of his vehicle after police shot him and subsequently careened into Israeli police officer Erez Levy, killing him.

The police immediately labeled the incident an ISIS-inspired “terror attack,” while simultaneously claiming that Odeh had been hit in the head by a stone thrown by one of the Bedouin youth at the police officers.

A video leaked to Israeli Channel 10 News over a year and a half ago allegedly included evidence showing that Odeh was in fact hit by a stone. Yet an analysis of footage filmed by Israeli police, Activestills photographer Keren Manor, and a police drone suggests that the video that was leaked to Channel 10 had been cut and did not include the moment in which the MK was shot. In the full version, one of the police officers can be heard telling another officer to “give them the sponge.”

WATCH: Forensic Architecture’s investigation

The latest report supports the version of the events as described by MK Odeh and additional activists who were also shot by sponge-tipped bullets, while suggesting that the Police Internal Investigations Department withheld crucial information from the attorneys representing the Abu al-Qi’an family. For example, in the materials handed over to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which is representing Odeh and Abu Al-Qi’an’s family, a page is missing from the transcript of one of the officers’ testimony.

Days after the incident, Local Call and +972 Magazine published a preliminary investigation by Forensic Architecture that included footage filmed during the shooting that showed Abu al-Qi’an was shot before his car hit the officers. Further claims made by the police, including that Abu al-Qi’ans headlights were off and that he accelerated as he hit the policemen, were also subsequently debunked.

Forensic Architecture’s investigation includes bodycam footage shot by one of the police officers, footage from another officer’s camera, and video footage shot by a police drone (which is slightly longer than what was published in the media on the day of the incident). The investigation also includes recordings of officers speaking over police radios.

The bodycam footage suggests that additional police officers filmed the incident, yet the Police Internal Investigations Department did not turn that footage over to PACTI. The bodycam footage also clearly shows that Abu al-Qi’an’s headlights were on, despite what the police initially claimed, and that Abu al-Qi’an was not shot again after his car came to a stop, as several witnesses claimed.

Israeli policemen stand guard in front of the car of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qi’an, who was shot dead by Israeli police in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)
Israeli policemen stand guard in front of the car of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qi’an, who was shot dead by Israeli police in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Faced with the mounting evidence, the Shin Bet ultimately re-classified the event as an “operational failure” rather than a “terror attack.” The state prosecution, however, decided to close the case and not prosecute any of the policemen involved.

The investigation will be screened in full between June 3rd and September 22nd at New York’s Whitney Museum as part of the Whitney Biennial.

A spokesperson for the Police Internal Investigations Department had not responded to a request for comment on the new allegations raised by the investigation by publication time. Their response will be added if and when it is received.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.