Shahar Mizrahi
Shahar Mizrahi entering Gilboa Prison, August 8, 2010. Photo by Gil Elyahu
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Shahar Mizrahi, a police officer whose sentence for killing a suspected car thief was doubled last month by the Supreme Court, reported Saturday to Gilboa Prison to begin his 30-month prison term for a 2006 shooting whose repercussions are pitting the police force against Israeli Arab leaders.

"I enter jail with my head held high," said Mizrahi, who was accompanied by relatives and about 30 police officers in uniform, including Northern District commander Shimon Koren.

Mizrahi was convicted of the fatal shooting of Mahmoud Ghanaim, 24, of Baka al-Garbiyeh, in the course of an alleged vehicle theft. Mizrahi argued that he shot Ghanaim in self-defense but later said he knew his life was not in danger when he fired. Evidence showed he shot Ghanaim at close range.

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ) called Koren's decision to escort Mizrahi to the prison "grievous."

"The message being given from this act is serious and immoral and represents an act of defiance against the judicial system and the courts," Tibi said, adding that Mizrahi wasn't a police officer fighting crime but a rogue policeman who took a life in cold blood.

In July the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's verdict and doubled Mizrahi's sentence.

Mizrahi resigned from the police force last week.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who has requested a presidential pardon for Mizrahi, recently asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to help push through legislation designed to bar the prosecution of police officers in similar cases in the future.

Speaking to reporters as he began his prison term in the Beit She'an Valley region, Mizrahi said he believed "the president would make the right decision," adding that he was "getting a lot of support from the public."

Koren, responding to the contention that his appearance at the prison in uniform was sending a message of defiance over the Supreme Court's decision, said he had come "to support the family."

"Shahar was a police officer up until two days ago and it was important for me to escort him," Koren said.

Ghanaim's family has appealed, through their attorney, to President Shimon Peres and to Neeman, requesting that Mizrahi not be pardoned.

"During his trial Mizrahi changed his version of events despite having been sworn in," the family's lawyer, Ami Hollander, said yesterday. "In the Supreme Court he admitted that his testimony to the District Court was false. In her ruling, [Supreme Court] Justice Miriam Naor criticized the officer for giving different versions on different occasions."

Relatives of the victim announced that they are considering petitioning the High Court of Justice, together with Israeli Arab advocacy group the Mossawa Center, against Aharonovitch.

Mossawa Center director Jafar Farah said Aharonovitch's campaign for a pardon is motivated by populist considerations and seeks to justify acts of violence by police officers against civilians.