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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Haifa District Court on Monday convicted four policemen who planted pipe bombs on the windowsill and underneath the car of two underworld figures in Nahariya, whom they accused of attacking their families and other policemen in the city.
The defendants were Rami Mousa, Eldad Hadad, Yossi Levy and Yaniv Bashur.
The court split two-to-one in its decision to acquit a fifth suspect, Ron Kroter, a civilian who had served as a police volunteer.
The judges in the case were Yosef Elron, Kamal Saab and Rivka Lemelshrich.
On October 22, 2006, a bomb exploded on Rafi Ben-Shalom's windowsill, causing damage to the building. Another bomb was planted beneath the car of Michael Mor, said by police to head a crime organization in Nahariya. The bombs consisted of gunpowder and small steel particles.
The suspects in the two attacks were only uncovered a year later, when a former policeman under arrest for a separate matter informed on them. They were detained together with another suspect, Menahem Ohana, who turned state's witness and described the actions of his friends in detail.
After first denying involvement, the police later admitted their actions. However, they pleaded innocent on the grounds that they had acted in self-defense because of the failure of the authorities to curb crime in Nahariya which, they charged, had gotten completely out of hand.
The policemen said they were trying to defend their families against the attacks of the criminals which could apparently not be stopped in any other way.
The court rejected their defense, even though it agreed that the situation in Nahariya had goten out of control.
"It is beyond my understanding," wrote presiding judge Elron, "how criminal elements could have terrorized an entire city for more than six years, and were not even afraid to attack law enforcement personnel with firearms, without a single one of them being tried for their crimes."
Nevertheless, he continued, the suspects only made things worse by taking illegal action against the alleged criminals.
"We must keep in mind that according to our system every person is considered innocent until proven guilty, rather than the opposite," he wrote. "A person does not become a 'criminal' on the basis of rumors, intelligence or even evidence, unless the evidence is brought before an authorized court in a proper criminal procedure in which the rights of the accused are respected and the evidence establishes the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
"Therefore, the actions of the accused, despite the extraordinary circumstances, instead of reestablishing the rule of law, actually drove it further away."
The verdict, which contained a damning account of the police's handling of organized crime in Nahariya, made waves among rank-and-file police officers, many of whom are sympathetic to the defendants and view their actions to be understandable in light of the lack of support they received from police brass.
"This is a difficult blow to the police," Tal Harel, spokesman for Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, told The Jerusalem Post. But, he added, "We respect the court's decision."
Speaking to Israel Radio, Supt. Yossi Levy, one of the convicted officers, said, "I'm disappointed by this decision. The court's verdict recognized the systematic failure by law enforcement in Nahariya. It presented a problematic picture of how police dealt with the problem. This criticism was aimed at the commanders, and it was also our position," he said.
"We shouted from the rooftops to our superiors that something had to be done. We told them about the frag grenades being thrown at the homes of officers," he added.
Levy praised recent police efforts to step up their activities against organized crime.
"This is what could have been done then. But we endured six to seven years of criminal activity and threats," he said. "Everyone was left to defend themselves. We are not criminals and we didn't come to settle accounts. We placed pyrotechnic devices that would have gone off like fireworks. No harm was intended," Levy added.
Avital Ben-Nun, an attorney representing Ch.-Supt. Yaniv Ashur, said after the verdict, "This was a ruling that denies people the right to defend themselves and their families. It is scandalous and not brave. I didn't expect to receive a brave decision here. We will appeal."