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Nov. '08: Policeman who killed Palestinian in Tel Aviv sentenced to one year in jail

Update: Both the state and Tomer Avraham, the convicted policeman, appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court. On 25 February 2009 the court accepted the state’s appeal, and handed down a two-year prison sentence for Tomer Avraham. The suspended sentence was re-affirmed. 

On 4 October 2006, Border Police officers detained three Palestinians at a construction site in Jaffa on suspicion of staying illegally in Israel. One of the three Palestinians was Iyad Abu Ra'iyeh, 33, a resident of Tarqumiya and father of five children whose wife was in her eighth month of pregnancy. One of the policemen, Avraham Tomer, shot and killed him.

The state indicted Tomer for manslaughter. In the verdict, Judge Oded Mudrik described the events that took place:

Members of the [police] team stopped the persons staying illegally [PSI] in Israel for a check that took place in a small room in a very small section on the side of the construction site. During the check, the defendants beat the PSIs, also by means of a club. The three PSIs were forced to sit with their backs to the wall, and the defendant was posted to guard them. The defendant cocked his rifle, which was lying on his shoulder in the “cross” position, while aiming it at one of the PSIs, Iyad Tawfiq Abu Ra'iyeh (hereafter: “the deceased”). In this situation, as he was cocking the rifle, the defendant absent-mindedly pressed the trigger. A bullet was fired from the weapon of the defendant and it struck the neck of the deceased, causing his death.

The judge found Tomer guilty of manslaughter and held that he acted “while taking unreasonable risk based on the untested hope that his conduct would not cause the lethal outcome or injure anybody.”

Some ten months later, on 9 November 2008, Judge Mudrik sentenced Tomer. The judge showed great understanding for the defendant's personal life, noting that he “became religious, volunteers during his spare time in a soup kitchen, and primarily, refused to cease his military service.” In the judge's opinion, “the defendant is not a criminal and is not a thug or violent by nature... The probation report, which mentions the defendant's remorse, anxiety and suffering as a result of the grave incident, testifies to the defendant's character and the one-time nature of the occurrence.” On the other hand, just before imposing sentence, the judge wrote: “The defendant was not in danger and his action did not result from a misinterpretation of the PSIs' conduct. He was impulsive, and his impulsiveness caused a tragedy for the victim of the offense and for his family.” Based on the above, the judge sentenced Tomer to imprisonment for one year.

Judge Mudrik relates to the killing of Abu Ra'iyeh as “a hapless, lethal act incidental to military or police activity.” However, holding Abu Ra'iyeh in a small, isolated room, beating him, threatening him with a weapon, and shooting him in the neck have nothing to do with the action of the kind referred to by the judge. Relating to the act in this context enables the judge, at least as he views it, to justify such a lenient punishment in light of the severity of the act and the horrible outcome.

This case is not unusual. In rare cases are security forces brought to justice for killing Palestinians in violation of the Open-Fire Regulations and in non-life-threatening situations.  In most instances, the authorities do not even investigate the incident, and in the few cases they do investigate, the investigation is done negligently long after the incident, when it is no longer possible to collect evidence and testimonies. As a result, the file is closed. In the rare cases when an indictment is filed, the charges levied against the defendant do not reflect the severity of the act, and if the defendant is convicted, light sentences are imposed.

In this reality, it is clear to security forces that, even if they disobey the regulations, intentionally or accidentally, the chance that they will be brought to justice and pay the price for their act is almost nonexistent. This policy transmits a clear message that the Palestinian lives are of little value and encourages trigger-happy conduct.