Monday, November 30, 2020

Hope of justice for Ziad Jilani, three years after his death

By Jessica Purkiss - March 15, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [culture of impunity] [Ziad Jilani] [Israeli border police] [Israeli Supreme Court]

On Wednesday March 13, the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem gave a ray of hope to a family who have been fighting for justice over the shooting of their father and husband, Ziad Jilani, nearly three years ago.

Ziad Jilani was killed after a traffic incident on the main road leading to Wadi Joz, in occupied East Jerusalem. His car swerved towards a dozen Israeli police and border police, hitting four of them. After the collision Ziad continued to drive. Officers fired at the vehicle. After the car turned into an alleyway, Ziad tried to escape by foot.

Ziad was then shot in the head and was pronounced dead later that day by the al-Maqased Hospital on June 11, 2010.

Shot at point blank range, flawed investigations and absent justice

The two officers who had had chased Ziad and were responsible for the shooting, Maxim Venogrodov and Shadi Hir al Din, claimed in their first testimony that they had fired from a distance at the vehicle.  When Maxim was asked in the course of the investigation whether anyone had shot at Ziad after he fell, he answered, “I definitely didn’t. Regarding anyone else—I don’t remember who fired, there was just me and Shadi.”

However, after an autopsy revealed Ziad had died from shots to the head at point blank range, the testimonies of Shadi and Maxim altered.

In his second testimony, Maxim Venogrodov stated: “I approached the terrorist while he was lying on his stomach on the ground, in order to ascertain that he was no longer dangerous and didn’t have a bomb. Just then he moved his hand. It could have been anything, a knife, a gun, an attempt to activate a bomb, and because I was close to him, I shot without taking aim with my gun. I’d only come to check him, after all, and as far as I know, I hit him in the head.”

Asmar Q., one of two residents of the alley who testified at the Police Investigations Unit, recalled: "The policeman was yelling at Ziad and talking to him in Hebrew ... and he was holding his rifle and aiming at Ziad with his foot on Ziad's neck ... Suddenly he shot Ziad two or three times ... Then he kicked Ziad in the face with his foot."

Following the shooting, the Israeli Police Internal Investigation’s unit (Machash) collected testimony from the soldiers and personnel, but did not question any eyewitnesses in the area on the same day.

As a result of the investigation conducted by Machash, the State Prosecutor's Office decided to close the case for lack of evidence on January 16, 2011.

This is despite expert forensics stating the cause of death was severe damage to the brain caused by the passage of two bullets through the head with crushing fractures of the skull, proving the first testimonies of the soldiers to be false. 

Border Police spokesman Shai Hakimi, in response to an inquiry from Haaretz, said: "The incident has been investigated and examined by the Police Investigations Unit and the investigation file was closed due to lack of guilt.”

It’s been a long time. I keep fighting and after this I will keep fighting if we don’t see justice. It’s not just Ziad who was killed that day, [but] the whole of humanity was killed

“It should be noted that there has been a 17 percent decline in border policemen involvement in disciplinary incidents and public complaints, compared with last year. Border policemen are at the most significant friction points and carry out their task devotedly and irreproachably for the sake of state security,” he said.

The following month, on February 15, 2011, the family submitted an appeal to the legal adviser to the government, against the closing of the case by Machash.

By the end of that year, on November 13, in his final decision on the appeal, the State Prosecutor Menachem Mazuz decided it would not alter Machash’s decision to close the case.

Refusing to give up, Ziad’s wife Moira and their three daughters submitted an appeal on January 4 2013 to the Israeli Supreme Court, through the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, demanding that the new state prosecutor, Yehuda Weinstein, bring criminal charges against Ziad’s murderers. 

This is the family’s third appeal to the Israeli authorities for justice.

Appeal at the Supreme Court

On February 13, Moira and her 3 daughters attended the hearing at the Supreme Court.

During the proceedings, Shadi’s lawyer argued that if a police officer is put on trial for doing his job by trying to protect Israel from terrorist attacks, it would weaken the whole system. The lawyer of Maxim claimed criminal intent could be argued on Ziad’s side.

The defence claimed that their defendants were afraid and in fear of their lives and of the lives of those around them, offering up the usual “terrorism” justifications. 

The state prosecutor said they cannot say who is in the wrong, because they couldn’t prove beyond reasonable doubt on either side and so ruled to not press charges. 

However the state prosecutor, who had previously not charged those who shot and killed Ziad, is now obliged to hand over all evidence to the Supreme Court by March 24.

“Now I have hope. Before today I didn’t, honestly I didn’t,” said Ziad’s wife, Moira.

Moira began a campaign called “Killing Without Consequence” to lobby not just for justice for Ziad but for accountability in the Israeli army for killing any Palestinian. The campaign highlights the lack of justice provisions in place for families such as the Jilanis. The website states the belief that with prosecutions one can alter the behaviour of the soldiers, pointing to the killing of internationals which stopped after the Israeli authorities were shown to take the matter seriously and apprehend those responsible. 

 “It’s been a long time. I keep fighting and after this I will keep fighting if we don’t see justice,” Moira said. “It’s not just Ziad who was killed that day, [but] the whole of humanity was killed. Jews, Muslims, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, you are still a human being.”

“This is unprecedented that the court ask to look at the evidence by themselves,” said the family’s lawyer Mohammed Soliman Egbrih.

Maxim did not attend the hearing. Shadi appeared briefly, sitting at the back of the court, behind Moira and her daughters. After playing on his phone for fifteen minutes he left. 

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