This week's decision by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to sentence two policemen to 30 months in prison for leaving a Palestinian man to die at the side of a highway is a badge of honor for the judicial system. The two policemen, Baruch Peretz and Assaf Yekutieli, were found guilty of negligent homicide after abandoning Omar Abu Jariban, who was in Israel illegally and was injured when a car he stole was involved in a traffic accident.
In sentencing the policemen, Judge Haim Li-Ran sent a resoundingly clear message that in Israel human life is sacred, regardless of whether an individual is Israeli or Palestinian, or whether they are well-known or nameless and penniless.
In June 2008, Peretz, who was his police station's duty officer at the time, and Yekutieli, who was commander of a police cruiser, left a barefoot and unsteady Abu Jariban at the side of a West Bank highway without food or water. He was still hooked up to a catheter after receiving hospital treatment for his injuries in the car accident.
In sentencing the police officers, Judge Li-Ran called their conduct "ugly and nauseating," saying he found it hard to understand how they could have been "unable to see and understand the distress of a human being created in the image of God," and instead related to Abu Jariban as an unwanted object.
The judge's stiff 30-month sentence - the maximum the law allows for negligent homicide is 36 months - is of supreme importance, precisely because the series of acts that led to Abu Jariban's death were not simply coincidental. The policemen's actions reveal that an inhumane attitude toward those labeled "illegal" has taken root in a disturbing way, particularly among those entrusted with the safety and welfare of others.
Even though Judge Li-Ran found that no one else in a position of command had been responsible for Abu Jariban's death, it appears that the entire chain of command that led to his abandonment should be subject to harsh criticism. This is particularly true of the Rehovot police station commander, Yossi Bachar, who gave the order to return the Palestinian to the territories.
"The source of a policeman's power, and that of the police force in a democratic state, does not lie in the baton or the Taser gun or any other weapon at their disposal," the judge told the defendants, "but in their ethical level." His words should resound at every police station in Israel.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now