Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch pictured in the Knesset in 2010. Photo by Emil Salman
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The Supreme Court's decision last week to double the prison term of a police officer who was convicted of killing a car thief elicited a verbal assault on the court from law enforcement figures, chief among them Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner David Cohen. The Supreme Court doubled from 15 to 30 months the prison term handed down by a lower court to Shahar Mizrahi, accepting the state's appeal.

The verbal assault ignored the facts of the case as laid out in the district and appellate courts' verdicts, which Aharonovitch likely did not read before hurrying to respond. It is unfortunate that this unrestrained, populist assault forced Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch to issue a rare, unsigned statement of "clarification of the facts of the case" even though all the facts were spelled out in detail in the rulings.

According to the facts established by the district court and not questioned in the appeal, the car thief attempted to flee the scene of the crime and the officer, to prevent this, smashed the car windshield and then shot him in the head at close range. The officer's life was not in danger, neither from an objective nor a subjective standpoint - that is, by his own judgment - as he stated during the trial. He violated the police's own regulations on the use of force, and he lied and changed his story in giving testimony. His post-verdict claim that he felt "in mortal danger" does not match his previous statements.

The message sent by the verdict was not "terrible," as the public security minister said, but is congruent with the Israel Police's regulations on the use of force, which stipulate that in stopping a vehicle a firearm may only be used to shoot at the tires or a suspect's legs. That message is vital for a police force that cares about the lives of civilians, even when they are criminals.

The correct response from top police officials is to ensure that the district and Supreme Court verdicts in the Mizrahi case are brought to the attention of all officers who could find themselves in a similar situation. The verdicts must be applied; only thus can we ensure that the law has meaning for society.

The actual responses to the verdicts constitute defiance of the law and an undermining of the rule of law, the sole interpreter of which is the court. In a state that aspired to democratic life in which the rule of law is a critical value, the minister and police chief would now be ending their terms.