Police, Court in war of words

Aharonovitch and Cohen will urge Peres to pardon Shahar Mizrahi.

shahar mizrahi 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
shahar mizrahi 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The Israel Police and the Supreme Court embarked on a public confrontation on Thursday, as the fallout continued over the court’s decision to double the prison sentence of a Hadera police detective who shot dead a car thief in 2006.
Detective Shahar Mizrahi, 30, opened fire on Mahmud Gnayem, 24, from Baka al- Gharbiya, after Gnayem failed to stop the stolen car he was driving.
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Mizrahi has argued that he acted in self-defense, and appealed his 15 months prison sentence to the Supreme Court. He was stunned when the sentence was doubled on Wednesday.
Widespread outrage in police ranks continued to be expressed.
“We have major problems with low officer morale, anger and frustration,” a senior police source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “Before the ruling, we had to think twice before opening fire in life-threatening situations. Now, officers will have to think a hundred times in a split second. This decision has changed the rules of engagement. No one can stand in my shoes and decide that my life is not under threat,” the source said.
Former Northern District police chief Cmdr. (ret.) Dan Ronen, who was Mizrahi’s superior at the time of the incident, told the Post the court ruling sent a clear message to officers that the “state is not behind them. It means the officer is alone against this legal process. It means every officer will have to think twice before taking a risk. Police will be less determined. The bottom line is that the public will pay the price,” Ronen said.
“Mizrahi was on a mission to prevent car thefts. Thieves would regularly come from the Wadi Ara region to Hadera and Pardess Hanna. Officers waited for them, to preempt their activities. Mizrahi had already been run over and hospitalized by a car thief. So he wasn’t just fearful. He had experience with criminals who ran him over,” Ronen stressed.
“Thirty months for this officer is way too harsh a sentence,” he said.
Northern Police head Cmdr. Shimon Mizrahi held intensive discussions with Hadera police detectives on Thursday, urging them to “keep their heads up and continue to work,” a police source said. Officers were also in discussions with senior commanders over the legal significance of the ruling.
In a rare move, the Supreme Court released a statement on Thursday afternoon defending its decision.
“The increase in Mizrahi’s sentence was required to express the severity of the offense. It was born out of an understanding that is indisputable; that police officers are subject to the law and are not above it,” the statement read.
“Mizrahi shot Mahmud Gnayem dead after he tried to escape from the scene of a crime. The car driven by Gnayem drove slowly and did not pose any danger to Mizrahi’s life,” the statement continued.
Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch vowed to seek a pardon for Mizrahi from President Shimon Peres.
Aharonovitch also promised legislation aimed at pardoning Mizrahi. “I won’t back attempts to seek a pardon. I will lead them,” the minister said.
In a visit filled with symbolism, Cohen and Aharonovitch visited another officer, Shlomi Asulin, at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
Rehovot policeman Sgt.-Maj. Asulin was stabbed in January 2007 before he could open fire at his attacker. Asulin, then 27, lived in Kiryat Malachi and had two preschool-age daughters at the time. He has remained in a coma, and his condition has recently deteriorated.
“My son was unable to shoot in time,” Asulin’s father, David, said on Thursday.
“Mizrahi was able to defend himself, and I admire him for his actions. The legal system should back officers.”