Asulin’s message

Police officer Shlomi Asulin died last week, after more than four-and-a-half years of silence and immobility.

police 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
police 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Police officer Shlomi Asulin died last week, after more than four-and-a-half years of silence and immobility.
He was gravely wounded in the first week of 2007 when he sought to apprehend two car thieves on his Rehovot beat. One of them reacted by using a screwdriver to stab the 27-year-old Asulin in the neck.
The stabber’s partner was arrested at the scene and the actual attacker – Tareb Abu Issa from the Beduin township of Tel Sheva – was captured later after having fled southward. Abu Issa was a convict on furlough, doing four years for burglary and auto larceny. He was subsequently sentenced to only 20 years (with potentially a third-off) because his victim was alive.
But that was only so technically. Asulin, the father of two from Kiryat Malachi, remained in a deep irreversible coma, on a respirator and life-support systems, ever since.
The savagery to which an ordinary car heist quickly deteriorated took the country by surprise at the time. But it shouldn’t have. When lawlessness is allowed to reign over the entire Negev region – from which the two car thieves hailed – no other section of the country may expect immunity.
The nature of violence is to spread if not stemmed at the point of origin. If criminals are allowed to get away with their felonies in one area, they are thereby encouraged to expand their operations elsewhere – to Rehovot, for instance.
In time, though, memory dissipated and the officer’s bitter fate faded from public consciousness. But an eerie reminder was served a year ago. The Supreme Court decided to double the prison time to which Hadera police detective Shahar Mizrahi was earlier sentenced by the Central District Court, which sent Mizrahi up for 15 months with another 15-months probation for the manslaughter shooting of car thief Mahmoud Ghanayem.
Mizrahi apprehended Ghanayem in the act and, just like Asulin, 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, trying to run him over. The only difference between Mizrahi and Asulin was that Asulin didn’t get a chance to shoot.
The lower court’s original sentence shocked the police and, claiming self-defense, Mizrahi appealed. So did the prosecution. To the police’s horror, not only was Mizrahi’s conviction upheld, but his punishment was doubled to 30 months. He began doing time exactly a year ago, on August 7.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch decreed that “the district court erred by not giving more weight to the value of the life that Mizrahi cut short. It didn’t sufficiently consider the wider deterrent ramifications.”
This deterrent appeared aimed at law-enforcement personnel.
Yet courts that don’t factor in extenuating circumstances are remiss. Second-guessing judges downplayed Mizrahi’s subjective sense of acute danger, although, given the speedily evolving incident, seconds after Ghanayem’s assault, Mizrahi had every reason to conclude that his life was on the line.
Postfactum, judges may decide otherwise, but they cannot dismiss the instincts of a man on the ground facing an oncoming car. They must 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.
When a 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. In the popular perception our highest court preferred the rights of outlaws to the mission, indeed the very lives, of lawmen.
A society that seeks to maintain law and order must ask itself who will protect it if the courts refuse to consider the special combat-like circumstances under which officers sometimes must make split-second life-and-death calls.
Policemen are anyway overworked and grotesquely underpaid. If, in addition, they feel thrown to the legal wolves, few are likely to make an effort or to take chances.
Fewer yet will enlist. The consequences for society collectively, and for each of us individually, could be dire.
We will best remember Asulin by amending the law so that our defenders don’t remain defenseless.