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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Jerusalem Police rejected criticisms on Monday that its officers failed to properly deal with Husam Taysir Dwayat, the east Jerusalem Palestinian who went on a bulldozer rampage through the capital last Wednesday, killing three people.
Some of the fiercest criticisms of police conduct during the incident were heard during a Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting, during which Avraham Kol Tuv, a relative of Batsheva Unterman, who was killed in the attack, said officers had become paralyzed out of fear that legal action would be taken against them for unlawfully opening fire on terrorists.
Hesitant officers "judging every step" to avoid being tried ended up costing Unterman her life, Kol Tuv charged.
But that assessment was flatly rejected by the Jerusalem Police, who said they were "very satisfied" with how officers had responded.
"Our hearts are with the victims' families," a police spokesman said.
"[But] when the officer mounted the bulldozer, he found that the driver had no pulse. If a rock had not been thrown into the tractor by a haredi civilian, the driver would not have woken up," he added.
During the incident, policewoman Elinor Nahum, had fired a number of shots at the driver, hitting him on the side of the head. The terrorist lost consciousness and the policewoman's partner, Shadi Daoud ,boarded the vehicle. At this point, the unwelcome intervention of a bystander, in the form of a rock thrown into the vehicle, jolted Dwayat back into consciousness.
"The driver was lying down and bleeding. We don't do 'confirm kills,'" the spokesman said, referring to the practice of firing rounds into a wounded target in order to ensure that the threat is neutralized.
"What woke him up was the rock. We unequivocally deny that officers were frightened to take action," the spokesman said.
After waking up, Dwayat hit the gas, running over another vehicle and killing a third victim.
The police's stance was backed by former Jerusalem Police chief Cmdr. (ret.) Mickey Levy, who was called upon by the Knesset committee to review the event.
"The tractor started going wild and a policewoman, just 22 years old, a girl, sees the situation, and recognizes that a terrorist attack is unfolding. She kneels and from 20 meters away, fires two shots, hitting the driver. In my eyes, this girl is the real hero," Levy said.
"I salute her partner, who climbed into the cabin, and saw the driver lying face down, bleeding. In effect, the danger had been neutralized.
"He put his gun back in his holster. If he had fired on an unconscious person, the decision would have been immoral. It would have had no legal grounding. That is not how we've been educated. We don't fire on the helpless," he said.
Levy said that "confirm killings" were not part of the police vocabulary. The police are Jews, he continued, stressing that there was one outstanding commandment in the Torah: Do not kill. "We don't shoot people in cold blood," he added.
The former police chief testified that while police commander, he had ordered officers to fire on handcuffed terrorists who had a suicide bomb vest strapped around them - but those terrorists had still posed a threat. Wednesday's attacker, on the other hand, had been unconscious and therefore posed no threat, he explained. "We must be moral, and not lose our humanity and be like our enemies," he added.
Levy told the committee that he had been "very critical of the police during the Merkaz Harav terror attack - then, the officer failed to strive to engage the gunman. I said then, his place is not with us."
That reasoning did not satisfy MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who also attended the meeting, and spoke out against the police's handling of the attack.
"These are all excuses," she said. "The result is the same - the terrorist was not properly taken out, and once again, armed civilians had to intervene, like in the Merkaz Harav attack. Again, police hesitated to open fire, and when they did shoot, they didn't neutralize the terrorist," Solodkin said.
"There isn't enough professionalism - something went wrong if outside intervention was needed to end the attack," she said, referring to the off-duty IDF soldier who opened fire on Dwayat after he woke up and hit the gas on the tractor.
"Democracy needs to know how to defend itself. I am not satisfied with the police. They are very slow to protect civilians," Solodkin added.