The Central District Court on Thursday sentenced policeman Shahar Mizrahi to 15 months in jail and a 15-month suspended sentence, two years after he was convicted of manslaughter for shooting Mahmud Gnayem in the head at point-blank range after the suspected car thief tried to escape arrest.
"I believe that the many considerations for leniency in this case, the general ones, those pertaining to the circumstances of the incident and those involving the personal circumstances of the defendant, are such that they should have a substantial influence toward leniency," wrote Judge Menahem Finkelstein.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years in prison.
Jaffer Farah, head of the Mossawa Center, The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, charged the light sentence was handed down because "the policeman was Jewish and the victim was Arab. Lenient sentences for policemen who shoot and kill Arabs has become commonplace."
The shooting took place on July 4, 2006. Gnayem tried to run away from policemen who had been sent out on a mission to apprehend car thieves in the Hadera area. The suspected thief reached his car, sat in the driver's seat and tried to back out of a parking lot when Mizrahi smashed his car window and fired a bullet into his head.
In convicting Mizrahi of manslaughter, Finkelstein had ruled that the policeman's life was not objectively in danger and that Mizrahi had not perceived it to be.
Gnayem was the 34th Israeli Arab to be killed by Jewish policemen or civilians since the beginning of the second intifada, when 12 Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian were shot and killed by police during the October 2000 riots in the North. According to Farah, the number has since gone up to 44 since then.
In his ruling, Finkelstein wrote that among the factors that influenced his decision to be lenient was the fact that Mizrahi was acting in a police operation to capture car thieves and prevent more car thefts, which had become a "scourge." Furthermore, he was deserving of respect for racing after Gnayem and not just letting him go.
The incident happened so fast there was no time to think, while just before, Gnayem had attacked the policeman with a screwdriver. In addition, wrote Finkelstein, Mizrahi had served four years in the army and continued to serve the people as a policeman. His commanders praised him in court for his "professionalism, courage, friendliness, sensitivity and modesty."
But Farah warned that the fact that policemen were let off so lightly for acts of killing would bring about "the collapse of the rule of law, which could lead to the law of the jungle in which civilians avenge themselves and take the law into their own hands."