Moira Jilani’s voice wavers only once in a two-hour conversation, when she describes the impact the death of her husband, Ziad, has had on her three daughters.
“Devastating. It’s been a struggle. For me, I can live with it, but for my children, they’re without a father,” she said, choking back tears. “We will survive. We will get over this. They aren’t going to forget their father — I will never let that happen — but there’s a big void there. There’s a big void there because no one can replace Ziad.”
Moira’s husband, 41-year-old Ziad Jilani, was shot and killed by Israeli border police officers on an East Jerusalem street in broad daylight two years ago. Moira and her three daughters — Hannah, Mirage and Yasmin — are still fighting to hold the Israeli officers who shot Ziad responsible.
“I want those two people that shot my husband, that did it in cold blood, and then lied about it and got away with it, got away with murder,” said Jilani, a US citizen who met her husband, a Palestinian Jerusalemite, in Houston where he was studying pharmacology. She moved back to Jerusalem with him 19 years ago to start a family.
“I just want the two men that shot him, with the bullets that my friends and my family’s taxpayer’s dollars paid for, behind bars. I’m an American, and they shot him with [American] taxpayers’ money.”
An unforgettable day
The Jilani family was preparing for a day at the beach on 11 June 2010, when Ziad was shot in the abdomen and head at close range on his way home from Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque.
Israeli police said he had attempted to run them over with his car in what they called a “terrorist attack.” Residents of Wadi al-Joz — the East Jerusalem neighborhood where Jilani was killed — said, however, that Jilani’s car swerved towards the police only after a rock hit his windshield.
Moira Jilani is adamant that her husband wasn’t involved in any attempt to hurt the officers.
“He probably swerved to get out of the line of fire [of the rocks], and in doing so, he side-swiped some [Israeli police] that were coming up the hill. In my book, that’s not a terrorist attack, that’s a traffic accident. Anywhere else in the world, that’s a traffic accident,” Jilani told The Electronic Intifada.
“My husband drove the truck down as far as he could, got out of the truck, and thought to seek refuge in his uncle’s house,” she added. “A few meters after he got out of the truck, a shot rang out and he fell. He fell downwards.
“[Israeli border police officer] Maxim Vinogradov was walking towards my husband. He kicked him in the head while my husband was down, shouting in Hebrew, put his foot on top of my husband’s neck, and with his M-16, boom boom boom, let off three shots.”
Palestinian passersby were also injured in the shooting, which left parked cars riddled with bullet holes and nearby shop windows shattered.
“[Witnesses] said every single car or van in the area was completely shot up. That tells you how randomly the shooting went crazy. If this happened on the West side [of Jerusalem], it wouldn’t have happened,” Jilani said.
“You shouldn’t be shooting like that. These are human beings. But a Palestinian is not considered a human being [to Israel] and their blood is not sacred.”
Pressure on the Israeli courts
The Jilani family is currently appealing to the Israeli high court for Israel’s attorney general to press criminal charges against the police officers who shot Ziad. Earlier this week, the court granted a 30-day extension to the attorney general’s office, so it could further examine the evidence and make a decision.
“It’s like playing a lottery; you don’t know on what side the coin will fall,” explained Hassan Tabajah, the Jilani family’s lawyer. “From one side, it is very obvious that there has been a crime committed. On the other side, the history of the Israeli legal system, especially on the side of the state attorney, shows that there is little chance that any charges can be pressed.”
It is estimated that Israeli security forces have killed more than 6,450 Palestinians since the beginning of the second intifada, and that in this time, no Jewish Israeli soldier has been charged with murder of a Palestinian (see Statistics: Fatalities, B’Tselem, 29 September 2000 - 30 April 2012).
Tabajah told The Electronic Intifada that Israel’s record of not prosecuting soldiers and police officers for crimes committed against Palestinians sends a dangerous message.
“The killing of innocent people during the course of soldiers shooting has become common. I think the message that the soldiers are getting is that they should not worry and everything will be fine and no charges will be laid and they are free to shoot at will,” he explained.
Pressing charges against Ziad Jilani’s killers, he said, “would set a precedent, in the legal sense and as a matter of influence.” If the attorney general decides not to press charges, Tabajah explained that it will be up to the Israeli high court to make a decision regarding the case.
“In that case, the events and the facts of the case [must] be analyzed legally by the court and a ruling is supposed to be made. This is very embarrassing, I think, for the Israeli high court of justice to try to avoid and ignore a very obvious crime that has been [committed].”
Not just a statistic
For Moira Jilani, while holding the Israeli officers who killed her husband directly responsible for their crime is important, making sure another Palestinian family doesn’t have to go through a similar ordeal is crucial.
“I want to make sure that the Israeli soldier, or the Israeli border police,” she said, “[is] not going to be trigger happy because they’ll know in the back of their mind that if they shoot another Palestinian for no reason, there are consequences.”
She encouraged people around the world to organize solidarity vigils in front of the Israeli embassies in their countries on 11 June, the two-year anniversary of Ziad’s death, to draw attention to the case. A demonstration and press conference will also be organized in Jerusalem that day, and a website, killingwithoutconsequence.com, has been set up to raise awareness about the case.
“He’s not just a statistic. He’s not just some number. He was Ziad Jilani, and I want people to know his face and his name,” Jilani said.
“I loved my husband more the day that he died, then when he asked for my hand. I have some great stories. I am so blessed to have known this man for 21 years.”
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at jkdamours.com.