Police officers who shot Arab motorists not indicted

On 6 October 2006, the Israeli Attorney General (AG) rejected an appeal filed by Adalah against the decision of the Ministry of Justice’s Police Investigations Unit (“Mahash”) to close the investigation file against Border Police officers who opened fire on and killed 28-year-old Mr. Moursi Jabali, and shot and injured his companion, Mr. Shihab Jaber. The AG informed Adalah that, in spite of the circumstances in which the incident occurred, he decided not to issue indictments against the police officers involved.

On 22 July 2003, at around 12:00pm, Mr. Jabali and Mr. Jaber, both Palestinian citizens of Israel, left a coffee shop in the town on Taybeh, heading for their homes by car. At a certain point, Mr. Jaber realized that he was driving the car against the flow of traffic, and therefore quickly turned into the correct lane. At that moment, according to eyewitnesses, a Border Police car approached. Three officers got out of the police car and started shooting at the car in which the two men were traveling. Mr. Jabali was shot in the head and Mr. Jaber in the shoulder.

The following day, Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker submitted a complaint to Mahash and the AG, demanding the launching of a criminal investigation into the shooting, and the indictment of the Border Police officers involved on the charges of killing and causing grievous bodily harm. Mahash opened an investigation following Adalah’s request. Adalah also provided Mahash with a list of eyewitnesses to the incident. On 6 March 2005, Mahash closed the file, on the grounds that the shootings do not constitute an illegal action necessitating the punishment of the officers involved (“lack of guilt”).

On 2 May 2005, Attorney Baker submitted the appeal to the AG against Mahash on behalf of Ms. Maram Jabali, the widow of the deceased, and Mr. Shihab Jaber. Adalah demanded that the investigation be re-opened and that the police officers implicated in the killing be indicted. In the appeal, Adalah emphasized that the opening of fire was not justified, because Mr. Jabali and Mr. Jaber did not pose a threat to the police, as the Border Police officers themselves stated before Mahash investigators. However, although they declared that Mr. Jabali specifically did not pose a threat to their lives, they nevertheless felt threatened because the car in which he was traveling matched the description of a car identified by intelligence services, and as a result opened fire.

Adalah included in the appeal numerous testimonies from eyewitnesses, who indicated that the Border Police officers began to open fire on the car without issuing any prior warning, either by calling out to the two men, or by firing shots into the air as a sign for the car to stop, as they are obliged to under the internal police guidelines for opening fire. Contradicting eyewitness accounts, the officers claimed that they did warn the victims. In addition, photographs taken of the car reveal that most of the bullets fired by the police were aimed at the back of the car, indicating that the shots were fired at the two men, and not with the intention of bringing the car to a standstill, as claimed by the Border Police officers.

Adalah further argued in the appeal that the many inconsistencies between the testimonies of the officers involved indicate that their statements are unreliable, and their criminal prosecution is the only way to guarantee that the evidence is properly examined and the truthfulness or otherwise of their statements established. Their prosecution is particularly imperative since documents exist which prove the inaccuracy of their statements. Failure to bring the criminally responsible officers to trial for the killing of Mr. Jabali and the injury of Mr. Jaber, Adalah contended, will further institutionalize a culture of impunity within the police forces.

It is Adalah’s view that the AG’s decision is extremely dangerous, as it gives the green light to continued police brutality towards Arab citizens, and legitimizes violations of their rights and disdain for their lives. It is also dangerous from a legal standpoint, as it contradicts the basic internal police guidelines governing the opening of fire, as well as the recommendations of the Or Commission in this connection. Adalah intends to file a petition the Supreme Court against the AG demanding the re-opening of the investigation and the indictment of the police officers.

Related Links

  • Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
  • BY TOPIC: Palestinians in Israel