The three police officers killed in the Carmel forest fire will receive their
posthumous medals of distinction in a ceremony later Wednesday – after the High
Court ruled on Tuesday to reject a petition filed by family members of other
state workers killed in the blaze to postpone the event.
Families ask court to delay Carmel fire medals
of Prisons Service employees, who also died in the fire, asked to postpone the
awards ceremony until after the state comptroller completes the investigation
into the events.
In a case that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch
described as “one of the most difficult to ever come before the court,” the
judges ruled that Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen’s decision to grant medals of
distinction to Asst.- Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, Asst.-Cmdr. Lior Boker and Ch.-Supt.
Itzik Malina for bravery in the line of duty, was legal and within his
“Our hearts go out to the petitioners who are crying out in
pain because of the disaster they experience – as well as to the respondents
[and] the families of the officers who perished,” wrote Beinisch.
petition was filed Monday against the Police Commissioner and the Minister of
Internal Security on behalf of the families of the 37 prison services workers
who died after their bus was engulfed by flames.
It states that giving
medals to the police officers – who may have been responsible for the death of
their loved ones – was unbearable to the families, and that it was preferable to
postpone the ceremony until after a full investigation of the fire, and the
failures surrounding its handling, was completed.
“We are not against the
officers and are not saying that they don’t deserve to be awarded,” said Ali
Shakib, the petitioners’ lawyer. “We are only asking what is the harm of
postponing the handing out of medals if doing so will gape a wound in the
petitioners’ heart?” Shakib argued that the police commissioner’s decision to
grant the medals was made prematurely and without sufficient knowledge about
what actually took place on the scene.
He charged that both the internal
police committee that recommended the granting of awards, and State Comptroller
Micha Lindenstrauss, said there was insufficient data on which to base the
granting of a medal of distinction, and that it would be better to wait until
the state comptroller completed the investigation.
“For now the facts are
still burning,” said Shakib. “Things went wrong. Mistakes were made. Somebody
instructed the bus to turn around. Someone was in charge of air support, which
never came. These are all questions that need answering.
have already received honor and recognition for their acts.
What is the
urgency to give them the medals? Handing them out and later realizing that it
was a mistake, would also pain the officers’ families,” he continued.
its response, the state said that Commissioner Cohen had the authority to grant
the honors – despite of the internal committee’s recommendations to wait – and
that he did so independently of any general failures that may have taken
As Beinisch later put it, “The commissioner decided to grant the
awards based on the officer’s courage in the line of duty. There is no dispute
that the officers paid the ultimate sacrifice in their deeds and remained in the
line of fire to the very end in an effort to save the lives of
“The commissioner reckons that even if the investigation reveals
that the officers acted mistakenly, it has nothing to do with their courage,
which is not in doubt,” said State Attorney Uri Keidar.
Last to argue
were the families of the officers themselves. Alon Gavizon, representing Karmit
Malina, whose husband died in the fire, said that the three’s courage was only
made more apparent in light of the possible failures that took place. He
stressed that the awards were being granted to the three officers who died, and
not to the police as an organization.
“The awards are being granted to
the people who could have remained in the office – or left – when they saw they
were in danger, but instead chose to stay behind in an effort to save the lives
of others,” said Gavizon.
“The medals will not return our loved ones to
us, but our sole comfort in the daily pains we suffer at their loss is in the
knowledge that they died heroically,” said Nava Boker the widow of Asst.-Cmdr.
Lior Boker. “I am pained that the people whose relatives they tried to save in
their deaths are now trying to prevent them from receiving their due
Not wishing to have to choose between the two groups of bereaved
families, the three-judge panel of justices – including Beinisch, Edna Arbel and
Uzi Vogelman – took great efforts to avoid making a ruling on the
As Justice Arbel said, it was a verdict that none of them wanted
to reach after hearing both sides’ arguments. Indeed, they strongly urged the
petitioners to drop the petition on their own accord, and announced a short
break giving the petitioners time to discuss amongst themselves whether they
were seeking redress from the wrong source.
However, after returning from
a short recess, the prison services families came back and insisted on a verdict
– arguing that handing out the medals as planned would inflict great harm onto
In their decision to reject the petition, the judges
withheld judgment on the question of whether the police commissioner should have
waited for the completion of the investigation, before deciding to grant
medals. Instead, they focused solely on the legal question of whether or
not it was in his authority to do so.
The judges wrote that the
commissioner had hierarchical authority to make the decision – even if he was
recommended not to.
“The commissioner saw importance in bequeathing the
values of courage and sacrifice to his forces, and we think it is not our place
to intervene on his judgment when he acted in accordance with the law,” wrote
“We can only hope that the facts involved in the tragedy will
be investigated and that all the families of the victims – to whom the gratitude
and appreciation of the entire Israeli public is granted – will find answers to
the lingering questions,” concluded Beinisch in her verdict.
the trial, Danny Rozen, whose partner Asst.-Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer died in the fire,
said that all the parties experienced shared suffering.
“There aren’t two
sides to this case. We are all partners in pain,” said Rozen.
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