Umm al-Hiran

Killing in Umm al-Hiran

Presented as ‘The Long Duration of a Split Second’ at the Tate Britain’s Turner Prize 2018 

Shortly before dawn on 18 January 2017, Israeli police raided the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. Their aim was to demolish several houses, part of efforts to force Bedouin communities away from land earmarked for new Jewish settlements.

Two people were killed during the raid: Yakub Musa Abu al-Qi’an, a Bedouin and resident of the village, and Erez Levi, an Israeli policeman. Israel’s government and police claimed the deaths were the result of a ‘terror attack’ by al-Qi’an, and suggested that he had links to the terrorist group ISIL.

Reports from eye-witnesses, however, appeared to contradict those claims. Forensic Architecture (FA) worked with a group of documentary photographers, Activestills, to scrutinise the allegations against al-Qi’an, exposing glaring inconsistencies and forcing politicians and the police to change their story repeatedly.

The results and progress of our investigation are currently displayed at the Tate Britain’s Turner Prize 2018 exhibition. The material displayed will be submitted in support of a legal appeal in Israel against the closure of a formal investigation of the police responsible for al-Qi’an’s death.

The story of our investigation, and that of the case itself, unfolded over more than a year. The timeline below follows that story, from the morning of the attack until the eviction of the village of Umm al Hiran in April 2018.

Dawn, 18 January 2017

Keren Manor, a member of Activestills, began filming the scene in Umm al-Hiran shortly after 5.00am on the morning of 18 January 2017. Manor and other activists had come to the village in response to an appeal by residents, to stand in solidarity with them against the Israeli police.

As well as documenting the violence and tension that invariably accompanies Israel’s dead-of-night demolition raids, Manor’s footage captures, at 5.56am, the sound of four gunshots in the distance. These are the shots that killed al-Qi’an—and, indirectly, Levi.

Morning, 18 January 2017

Through their official Twitter account, Israel’s police report the events of hours earlier, claiming that the incident was a ‘terror attack’.

Shortly after, it emerges that Ayman Odeh, leader of the Communist Party and the Joint Arab List in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), had been pepper-sprayed and wounded by police during the same incident.

Midday, 18 January 2017

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sends condolences to the family of Erez Levi, and threatens retaliation against ‘those supporting and inciting terrorism’.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister for Public Security, also weighs in, accusing Abu al-Qi’an of murder. Erdan calls Odeh and other Arab parliamentarians ‘a disgrace to the state of Israel’.

Afternoon, 18 January 2017

Israeli police release thermal imaging footage of the incident, shot from a helicopter. They claim it shows Abu al-Qi’an’s vehicle driving at policemen with its headlights off.

19 January 2017

Forensic Architecture (FA) publishes the results of a preliminary investigation of video material captured on-the-ground at the time of the incident, as well as the aerial thermal imaging footage released by police.

Our results suggest that, contrary to the narrative popularised by Netanyahu, Erdan and others, police had fired at Abu al-Qi’an’s vehicle before it accelerated toward police.

This video is a second, re-cut edition, first shown at the Tate Britain’s Turner Prize 2018 exhibition. You can see the original video investigation at the link below, or below the timeline.

WATCH: Visual analysis undermines police version of events in Umm el-Hiran by Natasha Roth, +972, 19 January 2017

When Ayman Odeh shares the investigation on Twitter the following day, the official Twitter account for the Israeli police responds, calling our investigation a ‘manipulative edit’, and says Abu al-Qi’an’s ‘intention to murder’ was clear.

20–21 January 2017

The autopsy report conducted on the body of Abu al-Qi’an is leaked to the press. The report shows that Abu al-Qi’an’s right knee was struck by a bullet, badly damaging it. It is possible that the damage to his knee made Abu al-Qi’an unintentionally push hard on the accelerator pedal of his vehicle.

The report also suggests that Abu al-Qi’an was killed by a second bullet to the torso, and that his life could potentially have been saved if he had received medical attention. Instead, he was left to bleed out for thirty minutes before passing away.

In the Knesset and in the media, Security Minister Erdan continues to insist that our initial investigation was biased, and that Abu al-Qi’an’s behaviour was consistent with a terrorist attack. In particular, Erdan argues that the Palestinian was driving with his headlights switched off.

27 January 2017

In a video broadcast by Al Jazeera, our researchers notice a detail previously overlooked: visible in the background of the footage is Abu al-Qi’an’s car, and the headlights of the vehicle are clearly on.

This video was produced for, and first shown at, the Tate Britain’s Turner Prize 2018 exhibition.

1–3 February 2017

Our findings are released through Israeli news magazine +972, and picked up by other media. Odeh calls for the resignation of Erdan and the Israeli chief of police.

“..Almost every element of the story police relayed in the hours after the deadly incident has been repudiated in various media reports and investigations. Now, it seems the police claim that Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qi’an was driving with his lights off, which allegedly made police suspect he was carrying out a vehicular attack, is most likely untrue as well…video shows Abu al-Qi’an’s vehicle, after three shots were fired at it, heading down a slope with its headlights on — before striking any police officers.”

Video contradicts more police claims in Umm el-Hiran killing by John Brown, +972, 1 February 2017

22 February–6 March 2017

Erdan and others begin to backtrack on their initial claims. Erdan, speaking to a meeting of police, calls the deaths of Abu al-Qi’an and Levi ‘difficult and regrettable’, and suggests it is ‘possible’ he was mistaken in his initial assessment. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel also apologises publicly.

Erdan would later return to his original assessment of the situation.

23 March 2017

Our researchers travel to Umm al-Hiran to work with local activists and residents on a full reenactment of the incident. The experiment confirms that, given the topography of the site, al-Qi’an need not even have pushed the accelerator pedal for his car to have sped up as it approached the group of police—the sloping terrain would have caused it to accelerate anyway.

This video was produced for, and first shown at, the Tate Britain’s Turner Prize 2018 exhibition.

12 June 2017

Further details of inconsistencies and procedural abnormalities are reported in Israeli media. Testimony given by the police physician on the scene contradicts that of the officers who approached Abu al-Qi’an’s car and claim they found him already dead.

Reports also suggest that police officers were able to view contents of the internal investigation into the event before they had given their own testimony to investigators.

28 December 2017

The investigation into the policemen involved in the shooting is closed, and no action is to be taken against them. The decision is not based on whether al-Qi’an was indeed a terrorist, but whether police had grounds to perceive it to be one.

The logic behind this decision is that of the ‘split second’: since security forces must make decisions and take actions on instinct, without the luxury of reflection, they cannot, the logic goes, be held responsible for errors of judgement. But instincts are a product of cultural conditioning, and this logic thus merely condenses long histories of oppression, marginalisation and separation into a single moment.

12 April 2018

The community of residents of Umm al Hiran announce the end of their long struggle against eviction. Ra’ed al-Qi’an, Yakub’s nephew, says the killing of his uncle has broken the spirit of the residents, and that they intend to leave in order to avoid ‘further bloodshed’.

Our video investigations were updated for exhibition in 2018, following developments and given newly available evidence in the case. Our original videos are below.

‘Preliminary Findings’, originally published on 19 January 2017

‘Continued Investigation’, originally published on 1 February 2017

‘Arguing the Truth’, originally published on 11 July 2017


Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Ariel Caine (Project Coordinator)
  • Oren Ziv
  • Christina Varvia
  • Simone Rowat
  • Stefan Laxness
  • Daniel Mann
  • Ana Naomi de Sousa
  • Nichola Czyz
  • Nathan Su
  • Nicholas Masterton
  • Sebastian Tiew
  • Basak Ertur
  • Sarah Nankivell
  • Breen Turner
  • Daniel Mann
  • Ido Tsarfati
  • Alican Aktürk
  • Oren Ziv
  • William Winfield
  • Michael Reynold Zalta

Collaborating Organizations

  • Activestills (Keren Manor & Yotam Ronen)



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