Yesterday, Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced his refusal to prosecute Border Police officers Maxim Vinogradov and Khir Al-Din Shadi, who executed East Jerusalem Palestinian Ziad Jilani in 2010, after a minor traffic accident on the city’s crowded streets. A lower court had earlier found insufficient evidence to prosecute Jilani. His widow, Moira, appealed to the Attorney General and his response today further confirms the impunity of Israeli security forces when it comes to the murder of Palestinian civilians.
Jilani was the father of three young daughters (see accompanying picture). He’d met and married Moira, a woman from Texas, and was making a life for himself in Palestine. One Friday afternoon after prayers, he was making his way home to take his family for an evening out, when he accidentally side-swiped a police vehicle. Thinking they might be under a terror attack, officers pursued Jilani, wounded him and, when he was immobile on the ground, fired shots into his brain at point-blank range.
Reading what the attorney general has to say about all this is instructive. One point that stands out is that despite a graphic description in the brief of the execution, the document talks of Jilani’s “death” rather than “murder.” They don’t even use the term “killing.”
The memorandum says there is insufficient evidence to bring the accused to justice. The officers took action in pursuing Jilani because they saw their comrades injured and believed they had witnessed a hit and run accident, though the actual injuries of the policemen were minor. Therefore in the initial part of this action the policemen acted according to their training and initially opening fire on Jilani followed proper procedure.
Do you know many other jurisdictions where policemen are allowed to open fire on a hit and run driver? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Pursuit, sure. But immediately opening fire? Never.
The State Prosecutor, Hila Gorani argues in her brief, that it could not prosecute Vinogradov because it could not be certain that he had sufficient intent to commit murder, since it could not with certainty determine his frame of mind when he fired the kill shots into Jilani. He could not determine whether he fired in the heat of the moment, amidst panic and fear the “deceased” would further endanger him. All of this must also be seen in the context of what the accused thought was a hit and run accident.
The brief says that the case against Vinogradov isn’t being closed because he’s found to have acted according to law. But because there is insufficient evidence to determine a criminal act. In other words, we’re not saying our boy Vinogradov was a Boy Scout. But a murderer? No way. Or at least we can’t (or don’t want to) prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
In an act of counting how many dead Palestinians can dance on the head of a pin,Gorani somehow finds it probative to refute eyewitness testimony that Jilani was murdered by shots fired mere centimeters from his head. Instead, she counters that the pathologist hired by the murdered man’s family found he died from shots fired from “over a meter [three feet] away.” Big fucking deal. That’s all I can say and all this deserves.
Another element of the policemen’s argument that makes no sense is that they argue that they believed Jilani, who lightly injured them in the course of the accident, was a terrorist. They continued to believe this after they shot and wounded him from a distance of about 10 feet, even though he was no longer in his van and they could see he was unarmed. They somehow believed when they shot him, that even though he was no longer capable of harming anyone, he was on his way to commit some unforeseen act of terror or that he might fire on them. They feared, if you believe this sack of lies, that he constituted a danger to others. This from a bunch who, in firing at Jilani, actually injured a bystander.
The policemen testified (only in their second interrogation, during the first they didn’t even mention this…hmmm) that after being wounded, Jilani “moved his hand” which they viewed as “suspicious.” Who knows, they surmised, maybe he had a knife, gun or explosive device. They derive this intelligence from a man who was wounded and lying immobile (except for that fluttering hand) on his stomach on the ground. They continued to believe it when they shot him twice in the head from a distance of a few inches. A terrorist? Really?
All of this constitutes an Israeli version of Stand Your Ground. Under this doctrine any police officer may kill anyone he believes (or claims he believes) is about to commit an act of terror. The threshold is quite low. You don’t have to do anything any normal person would find suspicious. You merely have to lose control of your van and sidesweep a police car and leave the scene of the crime. That’s enough to seal your death warrant in the Only Democracy in the Middle East. Let’s call this Driving While Palestinian. In the U.S. Driving While Black will land you in jail, perhaps. In Israel it will land you in the morgue.
The State prosecutor further supports her decision not to prosecute based on the supporting testimony of “numerous” police officers (no mention of the contradicting testimony of Palestinian eyewitnesses since they don’t amount to shit), who of course may be presumed always to tell the truth without favor.
Apparently, Weinstein also wasn’t sufficiently troubled by the fact that during the first interrogation, the commanding officer claimed he fired the kill shots and in the second, only after the family performed an autopsy which could determine with specificity who murdered him, did Vinogradov confess that he was the killer.
Nor did Vinogradov’s homicidal comments posted to his Facebook account shortly before the murder, in which he said the equivalent of, “Gonna go out and kill me some Ay-rabs,” rise to a sufficient level of concern that justified prosecution. Though of course the statements weren’t very nice.
Gorani attempts to argue that Jilani was murdered because he drove erratically. To support this, she even notes that the authorities performed tests of his vehicle and found it to be in good working order. Doing so, presumably would argue that Jilani’s mental state and indecipherable motives were the cause of his own execution.
The prosecutor concedes that there is sufficient grounds for disbelieving the testimony of the policemen that they fired the kill shots because they still felt Jilani might be a danger to them. But not enough to justify prosecuting them on criminal charges. Our boys may be liars, she appears to be saying, but we can’t (or don’t want to) prove it.
In rejecting the appeal of Jilani’s family, the State feared it couldn’t prove guilt. But is that any surprise in a legal system gamed against Palestinian victims? Is it a valid argument for a prosecutor in a country that disregards the rule of law regularly to say he can’t prosecute because his legal system would never find any policeman who murdered a Palestinian guilty? That’s essentially the argument here.
But you can be assured, Gorani tells us, that she didn’t arrive at this decision easily or cavalierly, but only after heavy consideration of the evidence. We looked at all the evidence, as did the police investigation and the State attorney’s investigation, she says. So you can rest assured that all that investigating covered all of our asses and arrived at the only and proper conclusion. The premise here seems to be that if you have a case in which an Israeli security officer behaves badly the more investigations you have the better. Not that the investigations will arrive at the truth or justice. They can and should all arrive at the same conclusion: permitting and justifying impunity. But merely having such a process, as kangaroo-like as it may be, serves a useful purpose that will presumably anesthetize the victims and indemnify the perpetrators. The underlying message is that the fix is in, but we’ll do our best to prove otherwise.
That “proper conclusion” I mentioned above is that while our boys didn’t behave terribly well, they did their job as best they could and a poor Palestinian suffered as a result. But in the greater scheme of things it’s far more important that we protect the boys who protect us, than that we protect the lives of innocent Palestinians. That’s the shameful sentiment in a nutshell. Impunity reigns triumphant. And the rule of law is prostituted.
This article was published at Tikun Olam