Although all evidence points to wounds from sponge-tipped bullets, police claim Joint List head Ayman Odeh was hit by stones thrown by Bedouin protesters in Umm el-Hiran. If the police are proven wrong, it means they shot the leader of the third-largest party in Israel in the face without any justification.
UPDATE: This post was updated with a photo of Ayman Odeh’s back showing his injury to be consistent with that of a wound from a sponge-tipped bullet, and that he is filing a complaint with the Department of Internal Police Investigations.
The debate continues to rage over the killing of an Israeli police officer and a Bedouin man in Umm el-Hiran on Wednesday, when Israeli forces turned up to begin demolishing the Bedouin village in order for it to be replaced with a Jewish town. Police and much of the media have the incident down as a car-ramming attack, while residents and eyewitnesses say that police opened fire at the car before it sped up and hit officers — a version that appears to be supported by police aerial footage. But another contested event, involving the injuring of Joint List head and Knesset member Ayman Odeh, flew largely under the radar.
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Police claim that Odeh was hit by rocks thrown by the Bedouin residents he was with, and police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld insisted to +972 that Odeh’s injuries were caused by stones. Yet Odeh and the people who were beside him all say he was shot by black sponge-tipped bullets. A report in the Ma’ariv newspaper on Thursday morning cited police as saying that Odeh’s injuries could not have been caused by these projectiles as they aren’t in possession of such weapons. But police use of black-sponged tipped bullets against Palestinian youth is widely documented — particularly in East Jerusalem, where they have resulted in at least one death. On the other hand, the injuries Odeh suffered were relatively minor, which is unusual for this kind of bullet, but it also depends on the exact distance and angle it was shot from, which is unclear.
There were no firsthand reports of any rocks being thrown when Odeh was allegedly attacked by police, and none of the injuries at the scene were reported as having been caused by stones. You can hear bullets being fired in the video shot by Activestills that was broadcast all over the Israeli media. There are photos of Odeh holding the bullet that he says hit him and plenty more of the bullets lying around at the scene. All the people I spoke with who were there deny that any stones were thrown at the time that Odeh was apparently shot. The only mention of stones at all in Israeli media reports are from the police account about Odeh specifically.
“There were no rocks. None. Zero. The police are liars,” Odeh told +972, adding that the police first sprayed his face with pepper spray and after that fired at him, hitting his head and his back. “Who sprayed me? Was that the protesters too?” Odeh said. “The security forces are hostile towards Arabs, that is what they are programmed to do. They are liars.”
The Soroka Medical Center report of his treatment does not determine what caused the injury and only states that the patient, Odeh, claims it was caused by bullets. This is standard, as hospital policies are to not get involved in the cause of injury. According to a few doctors I consulted there is no way, medically-speaking, for the physicians who treated Odeh to definitively differentiate between a wound from a stone and a wound from a bullet. The only way to start to uncover the cause of injury is to do a forensics exam. So for now, it’s the police’s word against that of Odeh and at least half a dozen witnesses.
UPDATE, Thursday, 8:30PM: Ayman Odeh underwent a forensic exam today, as part of a complaint he is filing with the Department of Internal Police Investigations, accusing the police of aggravated assault and unlawful use of weapon. The findings of the exam are still not out, however Odeh provided +972 with this photo of the wound on his back, whose round shape and bruising is consistent with wounds from sponge-tipped bullets. The complaint is being filed by attorneys with Adalah and the Public Committee Against Torture.
I don’t find the police version credible, to say the least, but I cannot disprove it at this time. However, the recent allegations by police, government and media of an “arson intifada” by Arab citizens following the fires in Haifa, despite there being no evidence or a single charge made, are a good reflection of their disingenuous conduct.
Either way, this is an incident of critical importance. If, as suspected, Odeh was in fact shot in the face and back by police, it means the head of Israel’s third-largest party was shot by his own police force for absolutely no reason. One of the videos from the scene shows Odeh talking with police and explaining that he is a Knesset member and is of course not armed.
When is the last time (if ever) that a Knesset member was shot by security forces? In 2006, rightwing Knesset members Effie Eitam and Aryeh Eldad were wounded by border police officers during the evacuation of Amona. But having a gun pointed at you is substantially different, and while Odeh is fighting for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Eitam and Eldad were fighting for the rights of illegal settlers in occupied territory.
The police shoot Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem with the same potentially-lethal black sponge-tipped bullets — and in the West Bank with rubber bullets — on a regular basis with impunity, but what could possibly be their excuse for shooting a public servant who posed no threat? They have to stick to the stone story, otherwise they’d have a lot more explaining to do.
With the driver, the police can at least claim there was the threat of a ramming attack. But with Odeh I don’t believe they have any excuse. Which is why the Israeli authorities and media are pushing hard the line that Odeh and other members of the Joint List are inciting the Arab public. They are victimizing and vilifying him.
Odeh told +972 that negotiations between the Bedouin residents of Umm el-Hiran and authorities to settle their relocation had reached a breakthrough Tuesday night and they were close to reaching an agreement, when things suddenly changed at midnight, and a decision was clearly made by someone in the government to scrap the agreement and instead go in full force to demolish the village. According to Odeh, “It was possible to prevent the spilling of blood…Prime Minister Netanyahu is responsible for the blood spilled.”