Maureen Clare Murphy
The Electronic Intifada / April 14, 2023
Yusif Abu Jaber was buried on Tuesday with his family demanding answers regarding the circumstances of his death.
Israeli authorities claim that the Palestinian citizen of the state intentionally drove a car into a group of tourists, killing an Italian man, before he was shot dead by police at a beach promenade in Jaffa last Friday.
Police say that after his car overturned, Abu Jaber appeared to be reaching toward a “rifle-like object” which they later claimed was a toy gun.
Abu Jaber’s family wants Israel to release the body cam footage recorded by the officers who killed the married father of six girls. They point out that Israel has not released photos of the toy gun that Abu Jaber is alleged to have reached for.
An initial autopsy by Israel’s Institute of Forensic Medicine reportedly ruled out that the 45-year-old had a stroke. Israeli media, deferring to Israel’s Shin Bet secret police, reported that these preliminary results strengthen “suspicions it was a terror attack,” even though further examination would be needed to rule out other causes for Abu Jaber potentially losing control of his vehicle.
The Institute of Forensic Medicine reportedly found that Alessandro Parini, the Italian tourist, was killed by the force of impact and not found to have been injured by gunfire.
Israeli police concluded that Abu Jaber intentionally hit people with his car.
“He entered the promenade area quickly and maneuvered between the concrete blocks to get on the bike route and hit as many people as possible,” a senior officer told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz. After hitting a first group of people, Abu Jaber “continued to accelerate and hit another group of people.”
The official said that after Abu Jaber’s car flipped, he exited the vehicle carrying a toy gun. After he was shot and the object fell out of his hand, “he ‘made an effort to reach for the toy gun one more time,’ indicating he wanted to die,” Haaretz reported.
Israeli police guaranteed that outcome. In a bystander video of the shooting of Abu Jaber, someone is heard commanding in Hebrew to confirm the kill.
Echoing what human rights groups have said for years, Omar Abu Jaber, the slain driver’s brother, “the policemen who shot and killed him took on the role of prosecutor and judge and tried him right there in the field.”
Omar Abu Jaber said that his brother could have been taken into custody alive and noted that the police and the Magen David Adom emergency services have changed their narrative of the events multiple times.
Israeli police’s credibility problem
Sami Abou Shahadeh, a Palestinian lawmaker in Israel’s parliament, called for an independent investigation.
However, international media, diplomats and even UN officials were quick to accept Israeli police claims about an event involving the apparent summary execution of a Palestinian.
Independent UN human rights experts referenced the incident in Jaffa in a roundabout way in a statement released on Thursday. The experts refer to “deadly attacks against Israeli and international civilians” while calling for international action to stop Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israeli police claims should instead be met with skepticism given the long pattern of cover-ups of unjustified deaths at the hands of its officers.
On Thursday, Israeli’s state attorney closed a perfunctory probe into the police shooting death of a Palestinian citizen of Israel at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City in early April.
Police claim that Muhammad al-Asibi, a medical student, had grabbed and fired an officer’s gun twice before being shot dead.
Eyewitnesses rejected the police narrative and even former police officials have expressed disbelief over the claim that the incident was not recorded on security camera in the heavily surveilled area.
A guard at al-Aqsa who witnessed the shooting of al-Asibi said that police confiscated his cellphone and he was interrogated by the Shin Bet in order to intimidate him.
Gideon Levy, a journalist with Haaretz, notes that “in an audio recording from the scene, 12 shots are heard being fired in rapid succession within about three seconds,” despite police claims of a struggle before the initial shots allegedly fired by al-Asibi and those that killed him.
In addition to the lack of break between the bullets in the recording, according to Levy, “also puzzling is the fact that 12 bullets hit Mohammed, most of them fired by a second policeman, without any of them hitting the policeman who fought with [al-Asibi].”
Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian lawmaker in Israel’s parliament, pointed out that Israeli police are quick to release footage when they claim that someone has attacked an officer.
“I know the area well, there are five cameras that record the area, and every policeman has a bodycam,” Tibi said.
“We are suspicious that the police coordinated their testimonies. They say exactly the same things, and this is very suspicious.”
Police cover-ups and smears
He compared Abu Jaber’s killing to that of Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan and Iyad Hallaq.
In both of those cases, police claimed that they had killed someone carrying out or intending to wage an attack, with Israel’s police chief and public security minister at the time even smearing Abu al-Qiyan as an Islamic State terrorist.
Years later, independent investigations revealed a massive cover-up into Abu al-Qiyan’s killing during a demolition raid in 2017, even though the Shin Bet determined two days after the fact that “there was no evidence or indication of a terror attack,” as reported by Haaretz.
Israel’s state attorney closed the investigation into his slaying in 2018 and no one has been held accountable for the math teacher’s death.
A former police official admitted during a TV interview last year that the investigation department was pressured by higher-ups to close the probe into Abu al-Qiyan’s killing.
Adalah, a group advocating for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, said that the admission demonstrates how state bodies “are implementing a well-established policy of sweeping immunity when Palestinians are killed or injured by Israeli police or military.”
The officer who killed Iyad Hallaq, a Palestinian man with autism gunned down while walking to school in Jerusalem during 2020, is currently on trial for reckless manslaughter.
Despite the appearance of accountability, the officer, whose name has not been released, has the backing of Israel’s police chief Kobi Shabtai. And despite being on trial, he has been effectively given a promotion.
Like al-Asibi and Abu Jaber, Hallaq was killed during Ramadan, when Israeli troops and police are on heightened alert.
And similar to the case of Al-Asibi, Israel claims that all 10 cameras in the area were somehow not working at the time that Hallaq was shot dead by police as his caretaker pleaded for them to stop.
Hallaq’s parents said that their son often recorded his walks to and from school with his cell phone, which was returned to the family with its contents deleted, according to Haaretz.
There is strong reason to believe that Israeli authorities are concealing evidence, the Hallaq family’s attorney has said.
Officers “suspected that Hallaq was a terrorist because he stopped several times and looked back as he was walking,” Haaretz reported.
As for the officer who killed Hallaq, “when they told me that he had special needs I was in shock,” he said in court. “In real-time what I knew was that it was a terrorist.”
The trial of Hallaq’s killer is an exception to Israel’s “sweeping impunity to its police and military forces, as well as for Israeli Jewish civilian vigilantes when Palestinians are killed and wounded,” as Adalah puts it.
The organization notes that Israel failed to hold its forces accountable for the killing of 13 Palestinians – all but one of them citizens of Israel – during protests in October 2000, with its “political and law enforcement leaders … persistently inciting against Palestinian citizens” of the state.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government intends to restructure the police force and loosen open-fire regulations even further, while codifying the policy of near-blanket impunity.
Champions of truth and justice should think twice before parroting Israeli claims regarding Palestinians killed by its forces.
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada