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A police officer was sentenced to 15 months in prison yesterday for killing an Israeli Arab who was trying to flee in a stolen car.

The Petah Tikva District Court convicted Shahar Mizrahi of manslaughter more than a month ago for shooting Mahmoud Ghanaim during a 2006 raid on car thieves in Pardes Hannah. Mizrahi, 29, also received a 15-month suspended sentence.

Mizrahi headed an undercover police team that spotted Ghanaim in the process of breaking into a vehicle. When they tried to arrest him, he sprinted toward his car. Mizrahi chased him, smashed the window of the car with the butt of his gun and shouted at him to get out. When Ghanaim tried to flee, Mizrahi shot him in the head, killing him on the spot.

Mizrahi said Ghanaim had tried to attack him with a screwdriver. But the court concluded that his life was not in danger, nor was he hurt. Judge Menachem Finkelstein said Mizrahi had acted "recklessly and thoughtlessly."

"For the defendant to shoot the deceased in the head violated the law and police regulations for opening fire," he wrote.

Ghanaim's family has demanded that the police fire Mizrahi, but police said they would not make a decision until after he was sentenced.

Ami Hollander, who represents the Ghanaim family, had sought Mizrahi's immediate dismissal in a letter to the Attorney General's Office and the police commissioner a few weeks ago, noting that Mizrahi had appeared in uniform throughout the legal proceedings, including the sentencing hearings. Moreover, Hollander wrote, some of Mizrahi's commanders, who appeared as character witnesses, used the fact that he remained on duty even after being convicted to support his request for leniency.

The Attorney General's Office passed the letter on to the police's legal advisor but took no position of its own on the matter.

"How could it be that in a country ruled by law, where even a prime minister is forced to resign over a police recommendation to indict him, the police commissioner and other senior police officials approve the continued employment of a police officer already convicted of manslaughter?" demanded Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center, an Arab advocacy organization.

"A police department that doesn't weed out negative elements and is lenient with them when the victim is Arab will be unable to protect innocent civilians of any nationality," Farah added.