A sick police force (Haaretz 25.7.2010)
A police commissioner who criticizes the Supreme Court is a commissioner who damages the rule of law.
By Gideon Levy
A police force that does not immediately expel an officer like Shahar Mizrahi out of shame is a sick police force. When Police Commissioner David Cohen, instead of condemning an officer convicted of killing alleged car thief Mahmoud Ganaim, says the police will continue to back him, he cannot remain commissioner. A commissioner who by implication criticizes the Supreme Court is a commissioner who damages the rule of law. True, these are serious accusations, but the conduct of the police is no less serious.
The public’s identification with Mizrahi, the wave of lament over his bitter fate and the threat that the police will not be able to fulfill their role have totally obscured the serious act he committed. This was intentional, of course. The criminal has become a hero, so let’s recall the details of the incident that retired justice Dalia Dorner termed an “execution.” Mizrahi killed an unarmed civilian who was not threatening the officer’s life. With live ammunition from close range, Mizrahi shot in the head a civilian who was trying to flee the scene. He violated both the law and procedures for opening fire.
This was the basis of his conviction, and justifiably so. An acquittal would have given the police a license to kill whenever they felt like it. It’s discouraging to see how the members of the public who are siding with Mizrahi are eager to have a police force that kills, but just Arabs, of course.
True, Mizrahi didn’t have any luck. His case was assigned to the right judges. If he had the luck of another policeman, Shmuel Yehezkel, who in 2005 shot Samir Dari in the back and killed him, he would have been acquitted.
Yehezkel’s fate fell into the hands of District Court Judge Noam Solberg and his intellectual mentor, Supreme Court Justice Eliyakim Rubinstein, so he was acquitted, despite Solberg’s ruling that Yehezkel “senselessly killed the deceased.” Mizrahi was less successful even though he had the same lawyer, David Libai. His fate fell into the hands of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. She did her job with integrity and courage, and now she is being attacked for it. Almost no one is coming to her defense. Instead of thanking Beinisch, they’re attacking her.
Mizrahi’s defenders, who launched an outrageous media campaign that included the particularly cynical and repulsive use of a policeman, Shlomi Asulin, who was seriously injured in another incident, sends a frightful message to other officers: Keep on killing. They are trying to mislead and terrorize with the claim that there are no police departments that don’t kill unnecessarily, and no war against crime without excessive violence.
That’s a lie – as if the more than 40 civilians killed by the police in the past 10 years were not enough. (And the spokesman for the national police headquarters didn’t bother to respond to Haaretz’s request for more exact figures ). It’s a horrifying figure that is accepted here with complacency because almost all the victims have been Arabs. (Imagine what would have happened if Mizrahi had killed Tal Mor, the suspect in the hit-and-run incident in which the son of a former Supreme Court justice was killed last month. What a commotion it would have caused, and what a punishment the policeman would have received without anyone voicing criticism. )
As if police violence against criminals and innocent civilians were not enough, not a week goes by in which a civilian is not battered by violent police officers. Instead of halting this dangerous trend, we accept the backing the police criminal receives, which is accompanied by shameful silence on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The Supreme Court is again alone against this whole wave of violence, which receives a tailwind in the media.
They say that now the police “will think twice before every operation.” Great. Does anyone want policemen to shoot without thinking first? They argue that the police can no longer defend civilians. In the meantime it’s actually the court that has come to the defense of civilians. They also contend that “the court doesn’t know the situation on the ground.” Nonsense. How is it that the court knows the situation on the ground when it convicts civilians, but doesn’t know the situation on the ground when it convicts policemen? And finally, they make the ridiculous statement: “We will respect the court’s decision,” as if they are hinting they have a choice.
The ink on Beinisch’s just ruling has not yet dried, but the campaign for a pardon for Mizrahi is already beginning, under the scandalous direction of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. This has to be stopped immediately. If Mizrahi doesn’t serve his sentence, we will know that policemen can kill without restraint. Yesterday they needlessly killed Mahmoud Ganaim. Tomorrow they are liable to kill Jewish civilians, too. And then we are sure to protest.