Carmel fire (Dan Amir)
Picture showing the Prison Service cadets’ bus and Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer’s car moments before they were engulfed by the fire Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. Photo by Dan Amir
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The High Court of Justice yesterday rejected a petition by the families of the victims of the Carmel fire who sought to prevent Police Commissioner David Cohen from awarding citations to three officers who died in the blaze.

Cohen will posthumously honor Lior Boker, Ahuva Tomer and Itzik Malina despite the protests from victims' relatives, who argue that the commissioner should wait for the results of a probe of the tragedy by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

The families who petitioned the court argued that awarding citations to officers before it can be officially determined who bears responsibility for the deaths constitutes an affront to their deceased loved ones. In addition to the three officers who were killed by the blaze, 37 Israel Prison Service cadets also perished after their bus was engulfed in flames along a highway that cut through the Carmel forest.

The state argued that the police commissioner is the sole party legally authorized to award citations, and that his freedom of judgment is extensive. The High Court agreed.

In its ruling, the court said that it had no place to intervene in a matter that is under the commissioner's purview.

"Hearing the petition was one of the more difficult cases that has come before us," wrote the panel of justices, which included Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Edna Arbel and Uzi Vogelman. "Our hearts are with the petitioners who in their pain are crying out over the tragedy that befell them, just as our hearts are with the respondents, the families of the officers who died."

"The citations do not preclude an objective probe into any failures, if there were such," the court wrote. "Whatever is decided, the findings will not take away from the fact that police officers risked their lives, and did not seek the easy way out by fleeing the scene. For their courage, the commissioner made the decision he made."

A few hours before the hearing, the justices requested that the families drop the petition. "This is not a ruling that we want to write," Arbel said.

The justices did allow the families of the officers to make a statement to the court. Noah Boker, Lior's widow, told the court that the citations would not heal the families' wounds.

"The [awards] will not bring our loved ones back," Boker said. "Everyone has families. This is our only comfort, knowing that they were heroes, and that they died as heroes."

One of the relatives of the dead cadets, Yehoshua Peretz, disagreed with the court's ruling. "Why the double standard?" said Peretz, whose son Ronen died on the bus. "Why are citations being given to some and not to others? The way it looks now, it seems that police officers are more important than my son, and that's totally illogical. I'm also sorry for the officers who died, and I would support giving them citations, but we first need to wait for the comptroller's investigation to conclude."