Israel Police Shoots First and Asks Questions Later

Ziad Jilani ran over several policemen, and apparently was shot in the head and killed at point-blank range, while lying on his stomach. The policemen's testimonies contain contradictions, but prosecutors have to date declined to pursue the case.

"Destroy Turkey and all the Arabs in the world," wrote one Avi Yakubov on Facebook on May 31, 2010, at 6:05 P.M. "I'm with you, brother, and I with God's help will begin this," replied his friend Maxim Vinogradov at 6:36. Within minutes, Yakubov replied: "And you, touch wood, can do this."

That was hours after the Israel Navy boarded the flotilla from Turkey to Gaza, encountered resistance and killed nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara. Less than two weeks later, on Friday, June 11, Vinogradov, 20, a corporal in the Border Police, came under what he and his peers believed to be a vehicular terror attack in the Wadi Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Maxim Vinogradov reenacting the shooting of Ziad Jilani, June 2010.
Photo reproduction by Alex Levac

As on every Friday, police were deployed throughout East Jerusalem. The driver was a man named Ziad Jilani, 41, a resident of Jerusalem's Shuafat neighborhood, the father of three daughters, and an importer of massage chairs who had lived in Switzerland and the United States for many years. He was driving home from noon prayers.

For an unknown reason, he swerved out of his lane onto the other side of the road, where a dozen helmeted policemen and Border Policemen were walking, armed with rifles, pistols and clubs. His family members say he probably thought he could pass the traffic leaving the mosque that way. Shortly before, he had called his wife Moira, an American citizen, and told her to get herself and the children ready to go out. Some neighborhood residents said he was swerving to avoid stones children were throwing at the policemen.

Maxim Vinogradov. Photo reproduction by Alex Levac.

Whatever the reason, Jilani hit four policemen, breaking bones. Other officers fired into the air and at his car. The fact that Jilani didn't brake only reinforced the impression that this was an intentional attack.

Neighborhood residents said police fired heavily in all directions. A little girl sitting in a parked car was wounded. The family speculates that Jilani was afraid to stop once the shooting began, instead fleeing into a dead-end alley where relatives live.

Ziad Jilan
Photo reproduction by Alex Levac

Three policemen ran after him and fired at him as he got out of his car and started running. According to the first official reports, he was gravely wounded and died at the hospital. The Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Unit investigated, and the State Prosecutor's Office decided to close the case for lack of evidence.

But Palestinian eyewitnesses told the family and Haaretz that Jilani was shot at close range while he was lying wounded on the ground. His family, who never understood why the police did not merely wound and arrest him, appealed the decision to close the case. The State Prosecutor's Office repeated that it had found no reason to launch criminal proceedings.

Now his 45-year-old widow and her three daughters are petitioning the High Court of Justice through the Meezaan Center for Human Rights in Nazareth, calling for the indictment of Vinogradov and his commander.

On June 28, 2010, shortly after midnight, Vinogradov and his commander, Police Superintendent Shad Hir al Din, reenacted the incident for investigators. The neighborhood was dark. In the reenactment video, Vinogradov tells the Police Investigations Unit investigator: "I come to check the terrorist ... the terrorist was on the ground on his stomach. ... I saw he was still moving. Out of suspicion, fear [that he had] a knife or a pistol or bomb on him or [in] the vehicle, you know, because he's a terrorist, I shot at him [from half a meter or less]. As he lay there scaring me, I grew increasingly fearful, suspicious, that he could take [something] out and blow up everything. I believe I hit him in the head with one [bullet] ..."

'Favorite foods: Arabs'

"Fear" did not appear in Vinogradov's profile on the Mekusharim social network when he joined the army in 2008. This is what he wrote: "Things I like to do : Hit, violence, love. Favorite foods: Arabs. Favorite activities: Beating people up, destroying things." Under "a little more about yourself" he wrote, "Affiliations: Extreme right. Special things you look for: Red-headed Arabs." But maybe all this was said in jest, because for "body type" he wrote "skinny," whereas his photo shows a brawny, full-bodied young man. And under education he wrote "postdoctorate."

Vinogradov was questioned three times by the Police Investigations Unit. The second questioning was after the reenactment. The third, in March 2011, came after the family appealed against the closing of the case and after their lawyers had reported some of his online statements, including one he wrote on Facebook on October 18, 2009: "Death to the Arabs. I'm irritable."

Vinogradov said he wrote the profile "I think before my conscription ... Before my conscription I was a security guard in clubs and that's why I wrote about beating people up ... There is no connection between Facebook and Mekusharim and what happened. Go to any Border Policeman's Facebook profile and you will see more or less what I wrote."

The first time Vinogradov and Hir al Din were questioned by the PIU, on suspicion of causing death through shooting, was just a few hours after the incident. Hir al Din, then 36, said he was the last person to shoot Jilani, from five or six meters away. Jilani was lying on his stomach, and had moved his hand, he said.

"I wanted to neutralize him so he wouldn't commit another terror attack," he said.

Vinogradov, however, when asked whether "either of you shot the driver after he fell," said: "I definitely did not," and added: "He could have harmed minority individuals whom I care about."

In his second questioning, he said he had forgotten several details the first time he was questioned because that had been his first vehicular terror attack and "I was on adrenalin."

The autopsy carried out June 28 found the cause of death was serious damage to the brain after two bullets passed through the head. Regarding the seconds before the shooting, a man named Asmar Q., one of two residents of the alley who testified at the Police Investigations Unit, recalled: "The policeman was yelling at Ziad and talking to him in Hebrew ... and he was holding his rifle and aiming at Ziad with his foot on Ziad's neck ... Suddenly he shot Ziad two or three times ... Then he kicked Ziad in the face with his foot."

A third policeman, Alexander Pikovsky, told investigators about the policemen Jilani hit: "I saw three of our guys lying on the ground wounded, one of them with his left arm entirely open and another guy holding his arm lying on the ground with his arm folded on his belly and his eyes closed. [The medic, who was also wounded] took out our first aid kit and said we should help him take care of the wounded and call an ambulance."

In the first questioning, Hir al Din said that while chasing Jilani, he thought the policemen had been severely hurt. In the reenactment, he said he had believed four or five of his policemen were dead.

Hir al Din's reconstruction is studded with battlefield words: "[I am] pursuing contact ... he [Jilani] has collapsed ... I don't know if he wanted to attack, to lie down, to flee ... [I fire] one bullet ... he moved a hand, I was certain he was about to pull out something or other, a pistol, or that he would blow himself up, [I fired] another bullet and he went flat. [I] send a neutralized terrorist report. And then I hear Maxim shooting again, I jump on him and tell him to stop ..."

He had not mentioned that final detail the first time he was questioned, a few hours after the incident.

In the reconstruction he also said: "I am running and urging people not to get close to the terrorist, maybe he is wearing an explosive belt. He could have something on him to blow up the vehicle ... And I am alone here with one policeman who is also in a state of panic."

The commander apparently was referring to Vinogradov. At the reenactment Vinogradov related that he had clubbed a young man who "went berserk" and said he was a cousin of Jilani's. The cousin apparently had been trying to help the wounded man. "Maybe I hit him in the head but I was aiming at the shoulder," he said.

At the first questioning he reported the incident a bit differently: "A person came out of the alley below and shouted at us that he was his cousin and he went berserk ... A Red Crescent team arrived and started to take care of the driver ... They also treated the cousin because he had gone berserk and apparently had been injured by the policemen who tried to get him under control."

In other words, four hours after the event, he hadn't remembered that he had shot a man lying on the ground in his head and had beaten another man on the head with a club.

Fear of authorities

The investigators from the PIU took testimony from two Palestinian eyewitnesses, but only on June 28 and 30. The unit said that in the immediate aftermath of the incident, neighborhood residents refused to speak to them. The Meezaan lawyers found witnesses and urged them to testify to the PIU. Nevertheless, relates Meezaan attorney Hassan Tabajah, two of the witnesses continued to refuse for fear of retaliation from the authorities.

"If a Jew been killed, would the authorities not have made every effort to summon eyewitnesses to testify?" asks Tabajah. And above all, he is perplexed that the two policemen were not arrested immediately in order to keep them from coordinating testimony and interfering in the investigation.

The Meezaan attorneys believe the fact that Vinogradov and Hir al Din gave different testimonies on the day of the incident than they did later may indicate coordination. The policemen didn't expect the family would insist on an investigation, they say. The exhumation of the corpse and the autopsy were also done under pressure from the family and not at the police's initiative.

The Justice Ministry responded that since the matter is awaiting a hearing in the High Court of Justice, it cannot discuss the claims. The ministry spokesman sent the state's March 19 response to the petition. It contains a request to postpone a response by two months because the State Prosecutor's Office has asked to "re-examine its position" regarding a criminal indictment.

Hir al Din's attorney, Yoni Dallal, wrote in his response to the petition: "The circumstances show objectively that any reasonable individual would have sensed that it was a terror attack ... In his opinion he acted in accordance with the rules of engagement ... [An indictment] could harm the security of the state and risk human lives, since such a decision would almost certainly constrain the security forces and could well make commanders and fighters hesitate to act with determination in similar incidents."

Attorney Adi Brenner, who is representing Vinogradov, writes in her preliminary response to the petition: "As determined by the attorney general, the policemen's version that they felt there was a danger to their lives cannot be rejected ... The respondent's perception during the swift, dramatic, intense and traumatic circumstances of the incident sent him a sharp and clear message that there was a terrorist ... the respondent's subjective interpretation was fed by the circumstances ... and by his vast experience in the security authorities."

With regard to the Mekusharim profile, she states, "The respondent has stated that most of the things on the site were written at the start of his Border Police service ... The respondent also suggested that investigators look at profiles of other Border Police soldiers, who commonly write this kind of nonsense, which is lacking actual intent ... The attempt to attribute weight to banal online statements is ridiculous ... The respondent completed his service in the Border Police without disciplinary problems. His evaluation states his conduct was notable."

Border Police spokesman Shai Hakimi, response to an inquiry from Haaretz, said: "The incident has been investigated and examined by the Police Investigations Unit and the investigation file was closed due to lack of guilt. It should be noted that there has been a 17 percent decline in border policemen involvement in disciplinary incidents and public complaints, compared with last year. Border policemen are at the most significant friction points and carry out their task devotedly and irreproachably for the sake of state security."