Public Security Minister Amir Ohana visited Aryeh Schiff on Tuesday to express support and condemn the indictment against him for second-degree murder.
In January, the Southern District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment with the Beersheba District Court against Schiff for shooting and killing Arab-Israeli Mohammad al-Atrash in November.
Schiff has claimed self-defense, arguing that Atrash was trying to steal his car and that he feared for his safety.
However, the prosecution rejected Schiff’s version of events, saying he used deadly force unnecessarily, while reducing the charge from murder to second-degree murder in light of the complex circumstances.
In fact, the prosecution said security-camera video of the incident showed that Schiff was in no danger and was not even in his car when the car thieves arrived.
“The indictment against you should not have been filed, and having been filed, it should be withdrawn,” Ohana told Schiff. “As usual, and despite conventional thinking, the problem is not the law or the wording of the law. The problem is those interpreting the law.”
“They are giving the law a restrictive interpretation until it is effectively negated [which is generally how the issue of self-defense is treated]… They give themselves the power to fill up or empty the substance of a law,” he said.
There is an ongoing debate in Israel about self-defense, especially in cases involving soldiers shooting and killing Palestinian attackers. Sometimes the soldiers are in imminent danger, but on other occasions, the attackers are already fleeing or have been neutralized.
Ohana seemed to be trying to take a page out of that debate.
Self-defense law is also hotly debated in other democracies when there are gray areas where a criminal might be committing an illegal act without endangering his intended victim’s life.
Ohana has made one of his lead political objectives to pick fights with the prosecution, law enforcement and the courts about their conduct regarding ideological cases and corruption issues. He consistently backs public officials and says they are accused unfairly.
It is not clear, though, how well the Schiff case works with the security self-defense theme.
According to the indictment, Schiff was sleeping in a camper trailer parked along the street outside his home next to the car.
Atrash and other car thieves drove up in their vehicle close to Schiff’s car, the indictment said. Atrash then used a metal object to break into the car and sat in the driver’s seat. When Schiff and his wife were awoken by the sound of the glass shattering, Schiff got out of the caravan armed with a pistol and stood alongside Atrash sitting in the car.
Standing three meters away from Atrash, Schiff ordered him to stop, presumably with the aim of forcing him out of the car. But when Atrash refused and started to drive away, Schiff shot him in the head. Atrash was mortally wounded and soon died.
Although Atrash was breaking the law, and Schiff certainly had the right to try to stop or catch him using proportionate force and to be compensated for any financial loss, he did not have the right to use deadly force, the prosecution said.
Given that Schiff was not in the car and the thieves appeared uninterested in the camper trailer, the prosecution rejected the claim of self-defense.
Schiff’s trial began in late February. Ohana visited him at his home in Arad. The visit might have been politically motivated as the March 23 election nears.