The Kahalani brothers
The Kahalani brothers - Yehoyada, right, and Eitan - in court in 1999. They served eight years in jail. Photo by Motti Kimche
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Sixteen years after two brothers pressed a neutralized M16 rifle against his head and pulled the trigger, a Palestinian man was awarded NIS 15,000 for emotional distress sustained by the Shin Bet security service.

That agreement was reached yesterday at Jerusalem District Court in the lawsuit filed by the man, Ziad Shami, against brothers Eitan and Yehoyada Kahalani of Kiryat Arba and the Shin Bet.

In the early 1990s the brothers were growing closer to extreme right-wing groups in Kiryat Arba, a settlement which abuts the West Bank city of Hebron. Acquaintances heard them say they hoped to kill an Arab, and one friend living in the settlement gave them his vehicle and two M16 rifles to wage an attack.

The Shin Bet, aware of the extreme ideology flourishing in the settlement, had secretly removed the firing pins from the two rifles in the man's possession that were later used by the Kahalani brothers. In his suit, however, the plaintiff claimed that the security service should have confiscated the weapons altogether, thereby sparing him the trauma of the incident.

On September 2, 1994, the brothers took their friend's car and drove to Jerusalem, and from there traveled southwest to a dirt road leading to the village of Batir. Spotting Shami riding his bicycle, they stopped him and asked in Arabic if he had any money.

They then produced their weapons, pointed at the man's head from point-blank range and fired. Shami, stunned that he was still alive, escaped, but the brothers gave chase by car before they were finally caught by Shin Bet agents.

Agents located Shami only 12 days later and convinced him to testify in the Kahalanis' trial. In court, the brothers said they had pulled over to the road leading to the village in order to locate a route for smuggling eggs from the West Bank into Israel. The brothers maintained that they had not spoken with any Arabs at the time, nor pulled out weapons at any point.

The case was transferred from Jerusalem District Court to the Supreme Court, which rejected the brothers' accounts and sentenced each to 12 years in prison. Their jail terms was later cut by former president Ezer Weizmann to eight years.

Since their release in 2002 the brothers have enjoyed almost complete anonymity and refused to speak to the press.

A year before their release, Shami filed a civil suit against both the brothers and the state, seeking damages for emotional trauma. The case dragged on for years - at first because of the case's transfer from the District to the Supreme Court, and later because the Shin Bet refused to allow the plaintiff entry into Israel to meet with psychiatrists. Prior to yesterday's agreement, the case had only reached the evidentiary phase.

Yesterday, before the Shin Bet agents took the witness stand, the security service reached a deal with Shami's attorney that would give the plaintiff NIS 15,000 in exchange for dropping the case. Shami's attorney, Tawfik Jabarin, said, "We had no chance of winning a lawsuit against the state, so we reached an agreement."

The Shin Bet said of the case, "Not only did we commit no injustice against Shami, we saved his life." The security service said that prior to the incident, "we had received general information on plans to commit a murder. As far as the service knew, there were no plans to kill a specific person, nor did it know where such plans would take place or who would be involved. The Shin Bet successfully neutralized the rifles with which the defendants sought to commit murder and thereby prevented it from happening."

The Kahalani brothers have filed a third-party suit against the state, claiming that the Shin Bet should have arrested them at the first opportunity and is therefore to blame for the incident. Judge Dov Pollock rejected that argument out of hand, noting that the state's responsibility to prevent crime relates to the victim, not the perpetrator.