A site foreman who was convicted of negligent homicide in the 2016 death of construction worker in central Israel was sentenced Thursday to community service and a fine after signing a plea deal.
Munir Darawsha pleaded guilty in the January 2016 death of Vitali Asaf, 43, a crane operator, in a fall at a construction site in the West Bank settlement of Elad. He was given 200 hours of community service and a six-month suspended sentence. He was also ordered to pay Asaf’s widow and three daughters 40,000 shekels ($11,600) in compensation.
The maximum sentence in Israel for negligent homicide is three years in prison. Darawsha admitted responsibility for the acts that led to Asaf’s death, such as not fencing off the opening through which Asaf fell. Asaf died instantly after falling from a height of 9 meters into a municipal reservoir.
Workplace accidents in Israel seldom lead to indictments, much less convictions, and punishment tends to be light. No one has yet served time in prison for the death of a worker in Israel.
The prosecution attributed the plea deal and the light sentence to flawed evidence due to faulty investigation by police and the Labor Ministry. “We considered the investigation, which wasn’t the best, the prolonged investigation process and the indictment, which came three and a half years later,” the prosecutor, Einat Benita, told the court.
Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court Judge Eliana Danieli said the penalty was “inappropriate” due to “significant evidence difficulty that emerged during the investigation.” She said “basic acts of investigations were not carried out in real time. ...“It seems the time has come, certainly in view of the fact that work accidents have become an epidemic, to examine the kind of investigations carried out in this field.”
Darawsha was charged in late May 2019, after the police tried several times to close the case. Pressure from the media, activists and the lawyer of Revital Asaf, the victim’s widow, kept the case open.
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The investigation highlighted many of the construction industry’s failings. For example, the safety investigator in the Labor Ministry (then the Economy Ministry) came to the site only the day after Asaf’s death. The department’s report was submitted to the police 10 months later.
Revital Asaf was in court Thursday, with her sister Sivan, as were Darawsha and his wife, Mai.
“I’ve learned during these five years that most cliches are true, life is stronger than everything and you go on,” Revital Asaf said at the start of the session.
“Although I was sure my life was completely over, I have three daughters, I live for them. This death was so unnecessary. My daughters lost an amazing father. My husband went to work in the morning and didn’t return. A responsible man, en experienced worker, an exemplary professional, careful.
"I know this won’t bring him back, but I’ve buried a husband, my daughters buried a father, and they’ll spend their whole life with this disaster, with this loss. My little one doesn’t remember him at all. She started first grade last year. At the school gate she said to me, ‘Why is everyone here with a father and I’m not?’ I set a goal to commemorate Vitaly, at least in this way, so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else. So that more families won’t have to suffer as I do.”
Darawsha asked the court Thursday to revoke his conviction, saying it would prevent his rehabilitation. His lawyer said the investigation’s shortcomings should have acquitted him, and that other people on the site, who were equally responsible, weren’t even investigated.
Benita objected, demanding his conviction. “The Supreme Court made it clear time and again that harsher penalties are given, because we cannot think that a person going to work in the morning and doesn’t return – is a divine decree. Time after time these accidents take place. In this case we didn’t have the optimal terms to go all the way and demand a harsh penalty, but ... this conviction is required as part of the public interest to keep the safety rules in the construction business.”
Darawsha said in court he wasn’t experienced enough in the job at the time of the accident, but claimed there were higher position holders who should have taken the blame.
“I ... saw Vitali climb up on his own accord,” he said. “He should have been in the crane. He wanted to make sure we’re not doing something wrong that would cause great damage. I asked him to come down. Exactly then I heard the boom and called the rescue workers. Two hours later they told me he had died.”
Darawsha turned to Asaf’s widow and said: “When I was appointed work manager, it was my first project in pools. I was sure I met the Labor Ministry requirements, but I didn’t have the experience. They should look for the real guilty parties, it’s not only me. I’m the weakest link. The contractor wants quiet, if anyone gets hurt – he has a foreman and he will get off scot-free. But it’s not fair and not right. There are tens of thousands of foremen, this happens every day.”
Site foremen usually take the rap in Israeli work accident cases, because they are responsible for both the safety on the site and the pace of construction. More senior figures are rarely convicted.