Terra Incognita: Is Israel's justice system broken?

The Jewish state is not a country where one wants to be the victim of gratuitous violence.

Karp 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Karp 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are bound to be miscarriages of justice from time to time in any country and under any system. However, the disturbing acquittal of three men on charges of murder after they and seven friends brutally beat a 59-year-old man to death should raise eyebrows. The Israeli justice system found the men guilty only of the lesser charge of manslaughter, even though the court admitted that they caused his death. It could not be shown that the men pre-meditated the murder or necessarily “intended” to kill him.
Leonard Karp was walking on the Tel Baruch beach with his wife and daughter in August 2009 when a man approached and asked for a cigarette. Later more men arrived and, according to accounts, harassed him and his family. When he confronted them, they beat him. Passersby did nothing to help. One of the accomplices of the eight Arab men who beat Karp to death was a Jewish woman in the IDF named Or Levy.
All were soon arrested, and several of them re-enacted the event for the police on August 16, 2009. Fadi Jaber, Fuad Musa, Mahmud Ades and Or Levy were all convicted in March 2011 of merely not preventing a crime. Judge Mordechai Peled ruled that “extreme evil was unfolding before their eyes, and they had a duty to get up and intervene.”
The Tel Aviv district attorney noted that “the court has reached a unique judicial ruling regarding norms of conduct. From now on, one cannot see a violent act and not do anything about it.”
The court acted as if these people were just bystanders, rather than members of the same group that had beat Karp.
On April 27 the Tel Aviv District Court convicted the central suspects, Jamil Ades, Abed El-Rahman Ades and a17-year-old minor of manslaughter. The judges, Nurit Ahituv, Miriam Diskin and Ra’anan Ben-Yosef, explained that; “to our understanding, the accused’s arrival on the scene and their use of kicks and punches is insufficient to prove the act was premeditated.” The judges elaborated: “even had we determined that the accused possessed the mental element to prove a murder offense, we would still have had difficulty in determining an ‘intent to kill,’ as required by law.”
Yet the same judgement notes “all the defendants together, as one satanic machine, used their arms and legs to strike the deceased... witnesses’ descriptions paint an unequivocal picture of a horrific ecstasy of violence... beating an elderly helpless man ... the deceased’s voice can be heard begging for his life, asking for mercy.”
And yet the judges convicted the men of manslaughter, as if they had driven drunk and run over a pedestrian. The judgement does not bode well for justice in general. It is part of a larger pattern of Israeli justice – plea deals reached and weak sentences given to terrible offenders. It begs the question; is it the prosecutors, the judges or the law that is at fault?
It appears that all three are to blame. Prosecutors in Israel do not zealously prosecute their cases, often making plea bargains with defendants. That has been the case with the Anat Kamm affair, where charges of harming state security were dropped against a woman who stole classified military documents. Four men from the Galilee village of Bir al-Maksour were all given a plea deal in 2007, despite clear evidence that they had been involved in four brutal kidnappings and gang rapes.
The judges in Israel are also at fault. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that Nurit Ahituv was also involved in the Anat Kamm case.
The law too is to blame. Why does one have to prove the “intent” of the perpetrator? In the US, if a beating victim dies even a month after the event, prosecutors may decide to charge murder, as was the case with John White in Delaware who died a month after being beaten in 2010. In France, the judges realized that the torture of Ilan Halimi in 2006 was murder, not merely manslaughter, despite the fact that the gang left him barely alive.
Why is it that it must be proven that a person who plants a bomb or burns down a house or shoots, stabs or beats a person “intends” to kill? If their actions result in death, it should be obvious it is murder.
Manslaughter should be reserved for those cases where an accident causes the death of another human being. Plans to revise the current law are too little, too late.
There is simply something manifestly inhuman about the Israeli justice system, and it speaks to the fact that perhaps we should consider replacing trial by judge with trial by jury, or enact sentencing guidelines that judges must follow. The court system that has not found great fault in the men who beat Karp to death is the same one that imprisoned a man for three years for throwing a shoe at a judge. The killers of Karp may end up serving a similar sentence. One supposes that had Mr. Karp been a judge, then the men before the court would have been properly convicted. However because he was merely a civilian, Mr. Karp’s life in Israel was worth little more than a shoe.
Some in the Israeli media have, oddly, taken the side of those who beat Karp. A channel 10 program compared his beating to the murder of a young Arab man in Jerusalem by two Jewish teens. But the events are not comparable. If eight young Jewish men and their Arab girlfriends had beaten and lynched a 59-year-old Arab man, there would have been a national outcry and they would have gone up for murder.
Leonard’s wife, Sara, has words that should stay with us: “I saw them brutally killing my husband before my very eyes. If that isn’t murder, I’d like the judges to tell me what is.”
The courts have sent a message: Israel is not a country where one wants to be a victim of gratuitous violence. It might just be a good destination for those who are violent and want a lenient justice system to call their murders manslaughter.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.