'I'm With the Good Guys': Israel's Public Security Minister Defends Man Suspected of Murdering Car Thief

Amir Ohana is at at odds with police investigators preparing to charge the shooter, calling the suspect a 'model citizen' and the victim a 'Bedouin thief'

Josh Breiner
Almog Ben Zikri
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Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Almog Ben Zikri

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana on Sunday came out in defense of a man who shot and killed a would-be car thief.

The shooter, Aryeh Schiff from the city of Arad, is now being investigated by police on suspicion of murder.

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But in a Facebook post, Ohana described Schiff as a “model citizen,” adding: “When it’s bad guys versus good guys, I’m with the good guys.”

Also on Sunday, the Be’er Sheva District Court rejected the police’s appeal of a decision to release Schiff to house arrest. During the hearing, prosecutor Yariv Tzori said Schiff will likely be charged in the next few days. He also said video footage of the incident shows that Schiff constitutes a danger to the public.

Ohana began his Facebook post by citing the provision of the penal code that covers self-defense, which says: “A person shall not bear criminal responsibility for an action that was immediately necessary to repel an attack that entailed real danger to life, liberty, bodily integrity or property, whether his own or someone else’s.” Then, basing himself on media reports, he described Schiff as a law-abiding citizen who had volunteered with the police and carried a gun legally.

“A Bedouin thief, for whom this wasn’t the first crime, tried to steal his car,” he wrote. “What do the law enforcement agencies expect a model citizen like this to do? Let the thief steal his property? Scream? Block the car with his body? After all, it’s clear that any confrontation with the thief could endanger his life.”

Ohana cited the case of policeman Shlomi Assulin, who was mortally wounded in 2007 when a car thief stabbed him while he was trying to arrest him and died four years later. Instead, Ohana wrote, Assulin should have shot and killed the thief, and he shouldn’t have been put on trial for it.

“I would be happy as public security minister to grant a pardon to any other police officer who, in similar circumstances, shot and killed a car thief,” he added.

“In the war on crime, there are good guys and bad guys,” the post continued. “There are law-abiding citizens who strive to defend themselves and their property, and there are violent, dangerous criminals who make a living on the backs of the law-abiding.

“It’s the state’s duty to provide its citizens with protection and security against terrorism and crime. But clearly, it can’t do so in 100 percent of cases. What this means is that in cases where citizens take action to protect themselves, the state must have their backs.”

The incident occurred last week, when Mohammed al-Atrash, a resident of the Al-Kasum Regional Council, broke into Schiff’s car and tried to steal it. Schiff then shot and killed him. Schiff claimed he was trying to shoot at the car to stop the theft and hadn’t intended to hit al-Atrash, and police originally investigated him for negligent homicide. But after footage emerged that showed him shooting the thief at close range, the charge was increased to murder.

During Schiff’s initial bail hearing, Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court Judge Sara Haviv said the footage casts doubt on Schiff’s story and “casts the incident in a more serious light.”

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