One week before he shot Palestinian motorist Ziad Jilani in the head at point blank range, Israeli border policeman Maxim Vinogradov expressed on Facebook his wish to kill Arabs and Turks. And on his profile on another social media site, Vinogradov identifies himself as belonging to the extreme right, expresses his love for violence, names “undocumented Arab workers” as his favorite sport, his hobbies as “hitting and destroying things,” and for the category of favorite food, he lists “Arabs.”
The Israeli border police claim that on 11 June 2010, Jilani attempted to run them over in a terrorist attack in the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood of Jerusalem, and, fearing for their lives, they shot to kill in accordance with police procedures. The Israeli state prosecutor agreed with police claims and refused to press charges against Vinogradov and Police Superintendent Shadi Har al-Din, both of whom admitted to shooting Jilani. Jilani’s family is now pursuing justice for Ziad in Israel’s highest court.
“If it was a terrorist attack, why would Ziad bump into the group of police officers at such a slow speed? Not a single police officer spent one night in the hospital because of their injuries. It was not even a major accident,” said Bilal Jilani, Ziad’s brother.
“Just doing my job”
“They know they [the border police] were wrong, because if my husband had been a terrorist, the government of Israel would have demolished my house, and they wouldn’t be giving me a widow’s pension,” Moira Jilani, Ziad’s wife, said. But the question, of course, is whether the officers acted properly based on information they had at the time, or if there was wrongdoing sufficient to press criminal charges.
Waiting for his hearing at the Israeli high court earlier this week, Shadi Har al-Din said, “I was just doing my job.”
The appeal heard by the Israeli high court doesn’t address Jilani’s guilt or innocence. It doesn’t seek to determine the guilt or innocence of Maxim Vinogradov or Shadi Hir al-Din. It simply aims to compel the state prosecutor to press charges against the police officers. In order to press charges, the high court must overturn the decision of the state prosecutor to close the case after the police internal investigations unit (known as Machash) decided there was “lack of evidence.” A previous appeal filed by Jilani’s family after new evidence exposed falsehoods and inconsistencies in the police testimonies was unsuccessful, so the high court is the last chance the family has to seek justice through the criminal system.
Impunity is rampant among Israel’s security personnel. A recent report by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din finds that out of 103 investigations opened in 2012, not a single indictment was served for offenses committed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza (“Law enforcement upon IDF soldiers in the occupied territories,” Yesh Din, 4 February). Yesh Din said its study of a large sample of cases involving police misconduct found that nearly 90 percent were closed due to investigation problems.
Yesh Din spokeswoman Reut Mor also said that since findings from internal investigations were kept secret, it was impossible for victims’ families to know if an investigation was done and what results were reported. “That’s part of the problem,” Mor said.
She referred to the case of Bassem Abu Rahmah of the West Bank village of Bilin, whose murder by Israeli forces during a protest in 2009 was caught on videotape from three different angles. “They didn’t start the investigation until three years after Abu Rahmah’s death, and now, four years after the death, it’s really very difficult to do a high quality investigation,” Mor said.
Despite the lack of findings from the police investigation, many facts about Ziad Jilani’s case are well-documented. Killing without Consequence, a website established to mobilize supporters of the Jilani family, presents a shocking sequence of events pieced together from eyewitness accounts collected by the family’s lawyer.
Shot in head
At the time of the accident, despite the density of innocent civilians in the area, the police opened fire so randomly that bullets were lodged in cars and walls; a seven-year-old girl was hit in the neck sitting in a parked car. Jilani drove away from the shooting and turned down the street where his uncle lived, which he knew to be a dead end.
When Jilani stopped and got out of the truck, he was shot in the back. Witnesses saw Jilani on the ground bleeding when he was approached by Maxim Vinogradov, who shot him twice in the head. Border police then prevented a nearby ambulance from providing first aid for approximately 20 minutes, and when Ziad’s cousin came out of the house to provide first aid, Vinogradov hit him with a club causing a serious gash that required stitches. Video of the scene featured on the website shows Ziad Jilani lying prone without any medical attention.
Bilal Jilani, Ziad’s brother, said, “They let Ziad be taken to the hospital without accompanying him. When he was pronounced dead, they didn’t do an autopsy like they usually do in terror cases. They wanted him buried so there would be no evidence.”
“As far as we know, we are the first Muslim family in Jerusalem to ever allow a body to be exhumed from the grave,” said Ziad’s wife, Moira. “But once we heard from eyewitnesses that Ziad had been shot twice in the head while lying on the ground, we knew we had to do it in order to prove that the police were lying.”
“After we exhumed Ziad’s body, the Machash invited Maxim and Shadi to do a second reenactment during which they both changed their statements,” said Bilal Jilani. “They both initially said that Shadi shot Ziad and only from a distance, but later ‘remembered’ that Maxim had shot him. Maxim said, ‘I think it was in the head.’”
Threat on Facebook
Investigation by the Jilani family — not by Israeli investigators — turned up the statements by Vinogradov on the website Facebook the week before the shooting saying that he desired to kill Arabs, and the racist and violent comments on his profile on the Israeli social network website Mekusharim.
The Jilani family’s lawyer from Meezaan Center for Human Rights in Nazareth argued that Ziad died because he was Palestinian. Once Jilani was shot and lying on his stomach, they could have arrested him. There was no need to kill him.
Ziad’s widow, Moira, and his three daughters, Hana (now 20), Mirage (18) and Yasmeen (10), and his mother and siblings sat along with 50 observers in the small courtroom earlier this week. Three judges presided; three lawyers defended the police, and one lawyer, Hassan Tabajah, represented the Jilani family. Moira and most of the family could not understand the hearing, which was conducted in Hebrew, and some supporters were denied entry because there weren’t enough seats. Proceedings were twice interrupted so that the judges could finish business from cases heard earlier in the day. The atmosphere was tense and sad.
At the end of the trial, an Israeli friend of Moira Jilani asked the state’s lawyer how she slept at night. The lawyer answered, “Very well, thank you.”
The family, however, was more optimistic after the hearing than they had been before. “They heard the case and, rather than rule on the spot, they have asked to examine all the state’s evidence themselves, not relying on the state’s lawyers’ claims,” said Tabajah, the lawyer.
“There is no legal precedent for the supreme court [as the high court is also known] intervening in a decision of the Israeli state prosecutor,” Tabajah explained. “They have jurisdiction, but have not used it even once since the state was established in 1948. The judges could have said at the beginning of the hearing that they refused to intervene, and this would have prevented us from making our case. But they didn’t. This is a hopeful sign.”
“I was surprised, and moved that the judges expressed condolences for the family’s loss,” said Neta Golan, an Israeli human rights activist who attended the hearing. “I’ve seen them blatantly disregard Palestinians before, but today they showed a human side. We’ll have to wait to see if they follow through.”
Bilal Jilani said, “If the Israeli supreme court really looks at the evidence of this case, and if they still say there are no grounds to press charges against the officers who murdered Ziad, then it means Israel has no credibility at all. They rule by the law of the jungle.”