shahar mizrahi 311.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has signed a formal request for a presidential
pardon for imprisoned police office Shahar Mizrahi. Barring any unexpected
developments, Mizrahi ought to be a free man soon.
But this isn’t the
classic happy ending. It merely mitigates what in the popular perception looms
as a glaring injustice.
Mizrahi, a former Hadera police detective, has
already served 17 months, more than the 15 months to which he was originally
sentenced in 2009 for the manslaughter shooting of Baka al-Gharbiyeh recidivist
car thief Mahmoud Ghanayem.
In 2006, Mizrahi apprehended Ghanayem in the
act, was attacked with a screwdriver and pushed down.
Immobilized by an
injured ankle, Mizrahi shot at Ghanayem as he sped at him in the stolen vehicle,
likely trying to run him over.
Mizrahi, claiming self-defense, appealed –
but to his horror the Supreme Court decided in 2010 to double his sentence. This
became a cause célèbre throughout the police force.
Anyone with even
cursory familiarity with the legal system realizes that justice and fairness are
by no means identical with encoded strictures. What the law stipulates doesn’t
necessarily mesh with what common sense dictates.
A truly wise judiciary
strives to bridge the gap between the average citizen’s intuition and legal
instructions. Our courts, however, seem bent on accentuating their reputation
for supercilious insensitivity.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch
decreed that “the district court erred by giving more weight to Mizrahi’s
personal circumstances and not enough to the value of the life that Mizrahi cut
short. It also didn’t consider sufficiently the wider deterrent
Superficially, this was reminiscent of the Shai Dromi
case in which the Negev rancher shot a Beduin rustler.
Yet Mizrahi was no
vigilante taking the law into his own hands. Therefore, the deterrent of which
Beinisch spoke appeared aimed at law-enforcement personnel.
effort,” she averred, “Mizrahi could have avoided the danger he felt and shot at
the car tires or the deceased’s legs.”
However, Judge Menahem
Finkelstein, who presided over Mizrahi’s initial trial, argued that the incident
evolved so rapidly that there was no time for careful evaluation, especially as
the shooting occurred seconds after Ghanayem attacked the policeman with his
Beinisch may have had the dry language of the law on her
side. The problem is the application of said law.
A court that doesn’t
factor in extenuating circumstances is remiss. Yet here, second-guessing
downplayed Mizrahi’s subjective sense of acute danger. Given the situation he
was caught in, he had every rational reason to conclude that his life was on the
Judges may rule otherwise but they shouldn’t have dismissed the
instincts of a man on the ground facing an oncoming car. They had to be aware he
wasn’t operating in air-conditioned chambers, with hours to weigh pros and cons,
calculate trajectories and mull over the thief’s legal standing.
ruling, even if pedantically in perfect accord with the letter of the law,
violates the law’s spirit and egregiously offends ordinary folks’ notion of
justice, it is – to put it mildly – counterproductive. To the layman, the
highest court in our land preferred the rights of outlaws to the mission, indeed
the very lives, of lawmen.
The case of officer Shlomi Assulin is
instructive. He died last summer after nearly five years in deep coma because he
was stabbed with a screwdriver by a Beduin car thief he tried to arrest in
Rehovot. Assulin didn’t shoot.
A society that seeks to maintain law and
order must ask itself who will protect it if the courts refuse to consider the
combat-like circumstances under which officers sometimes must make split-second
Policemen are anyway overworked and underpaid. If
they also feel thrown to the legal dogs, few are likely to make an effort or
take chances. Fewer yet will enlist in the service. The consequences for society
collectively and for each of us individually could be dire.
It remains to
be hoped that President Shimon Peres will speedily pardon Mizrahi. Any
additional day he spends behind bars will further erode the motivation of his