Ziad Jilani with his three daughters.
Two years ago, Ziad Jilani was executed at point-blank range by an Israeli border police officer who had gone after Jilani after he was involved in a car accident. Normally, a case like this would disappear into obscurity, one of many incidents where innocent Palestinians are killed. But after Israeli authorities deemed the case closed, the Jilani family fought back.
May 21 was the day the Jilanis hoped to find out whether the Israeli Attorney General would press charges against the border police officers who killed Jilani. Instead, according to the family’s lawyers, “Israeli State attorney Yehuda Weinstein has requested a further extension to decide whether to press charges against the murder of Ziad Jilani. The request of a second extension reflects the indecision in the state attorney's office regarding this case. This is our chance to make a difference. Please spread this message.” A Twitter message from the campaign reports that the attorney general has until June 20 to make a decision.
I recently caught up with Moira, Ziad’s wife, and Iman Jilani, the sister of Ziad, a few days before the family thought they would find out about any potential prosecution. Through a Skype conference call, I spoke with both of them about Ziad’s case and their campaign to help end Israeli impunity.
Alex Kane: First, tell me a little bit about yourself, Iman.
Iman Jilani (Photo courtesy of the Jilani family)
Iman Jilani: I’m the sister of Ziad Jilani. I’ve been in the US, actually, most of my life, and I’m married and I have three children. I work at Pfizer, I’m a scientist, an associate director at Pfizer.
We are trying to get justice for Ziad. I wasn’t able to go to his funeral because Israel revoked my residency once I got my residency over here, and I wasn’t able to go back until I got my citizenship, which was last year. I was then able to go visit my family. So basically we’re now doing this campaign in order to get justice for Ziad, because a year ago, in January, the Israeli authorities decided that there’s not enough evidence to prosecute Maxim Vinogradov, or Shadi Heir Al Din [the border police officers responsible for Ziad’s killing], and they’re going to drop the charges. They did indicate that they thought it wasn’t a terrorist attack, that it was an accident, but at the same time there’s not enough evidence indicating that they did it as a criminal act, and so they’re not going to go ahead and prosecute.
So, we found a lot of evidence that Maxim was planning to kill any Arab. He actually publicly put on Facebook that he wants to get rid of all Turks and Arabs, just one week before he killed my brother. There was also a lot of evidence indicating that he was just basically waiting for an opportunity to kill someone.
Basically, what we’re trying to do over here is get some justice for Ziad. He was a very good man, he was not a terrorist, we definitely know it was an accident, his car was hit by a stone before he probably got confused and was trying to get out of the situation, and that’s why the soldiers that were walking got somewhat hit by him. It was very minor--if he wanted to kill soldiers, he would go full force and hit them very hard. And in this case, he barely brushed them, and they started firing right away. And of course when someone fires at you, what are you going to do? You’ll try to run. He knew they were going to kill him. And actually they just started shooting randomly--a little girl got injured, an old man also got injured in the whole shooting, and so [Ziad] said, maybe I can take refuge at my uncle’s house.
He went into a dead end, which he knew was a dead end because my uncle lives there. And he thought maybe they’ll stop shooting, but they shot him in the back, he fell on the floor, lying on the floor on his belly, his hands are up, and they knew he was no threat whatsoever because his shirt was up and there was nothing there. Initially, they said they were worried he had a bomb around his body, which he didn’t, and this guy Maxim, trigger happy, comes over, steps on his neck and shoots him in the head. And of course rejoicing after that, “I killed him, I killed him.” I really don’t believe this should have happened, and we think this was an act of hatred from Maxim, and we want justice. And it seems they won’t prosecute any soldier as long as they say they say that they suspect a terrorist.
AK: So, Moira, Iman was going through what had happened to Ziad. And, Ziad did not have US citizenship, but you do, Moira?
Moira Jilani: Right. I’m an American citizen--not by birth, my father was an American. I’m originally from the islands, Barbados.
AK: What was the response of the US consulate in Jerusalem?
MJ: (Laughs.) The response of the US. People told me I would have been better off if I went to the English, the British Embassy probably would have been better.
[At this point our Skype conversation gets cut off.]
AK: So, you were explaining the response of the US.
MJ: Which is not very helpful, to say the least. I’m very disappointed. Very disappointed.
AK: How many children do you have?
Moira Jilani with Hanna, Miraj and Yasmin.
(Photo courtesy of the Jilani family)
MJ: I have three girls: I have Hanna, who is 19; Miraj, who is 17; and Yasmin, who is 10.
AK: And they all live with you in Jerusalem?
AK: How has it been in the year since Ziad’s death?
MJ: It’s been very difficult. But, you know, I have really great family support here--Iman’s been one of them along with her brother Bilal. Without their support, I could not possibly live here to tell you the truth. But those are the two main people giving me support, and then my husband’s family is very big. Jilani is a very big family. So I’m always getting phone calls asking me if I need anything--very supportive, very supportive people. And from neighbors and friends.
AK: And I understand the Israeli authorities have closed the investigation into the case. Are you and Iman pursuing further legal action?
MJ: That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get a lot of signatures on our petition to pressure the Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to go ahead and follow up with the criminal court. We need the pressure of the people.
IJ: Moira, let me explain what’s been happening with the courts. So, after they dropped the charges, we actually went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court looked into the evidence that we provided, and decided there is some evidence that could relate to criminal charges, and that it should go back to the criminal court. So it went back to the criminal court, they sent a letter to the criminal court, and by the 21st of this month, the criminal court has to make a decision whether they’re going to proceed with the charges or not. And that’s why we have this petition, to sort of influence them to make sure they proceed with the criminal charges.
AK: As you guys explain in your campaign, Israel has an awful track record of prosecuting their own soldiers for abuses committed against Palestinians. So, given that context, talk about your campaign.
MJ: Look, for me, it’s not an Israeli or Palestinian thing. I mean, you can go that route, but I don’t go that route. This was basically an accident, a car accident, that went wrong, horribly wrong. And for me, if it was two Palestinians that killed my husband, I would be pressuring the Palestinian government to go after these people. For me, it’s not an Israeli or Palestinian thing. These two guys murdered my husband in cold blood, and I just want justice. I want the same democracy that they keep talking about that’s over here, I want them to prove it to me, the democracy that they keep talking about and spreading propaganda about in the media. Where is my democracy? Where is my children’s democracy? Where are our rights? These people killed my husband in cold blood, and they haven’t lost a day of pay, and nobody lost their job, nobody lost their gun, you know. It’s a mockery.
Basically, when I got back my husband’s computer, and his wallet, three weeks after they came into my house, they had taken everything. They stole everything. Not only did they take his life--but they stole all the money in my husband’s pocket, which was over 3,000 shekels. You know what they did? They put a dollar bill. My husband didn’t have any dollar bills. One dollar bill, that was all that was in the wallet. To me, that’s basically telling me, there, America paid for the bullet, one of the bullets that hit my husband. That’s basically what I got out of that, and I’m an American citizen.
AK: And Iman, you mentioned you were trying to organize a rally in California. And I just read earlier today that there’s a rally being planned in New York. Talk about those rallies.
IJ: On June 11, we’re actually going to have a memorial and demonstration that will go into different cities and it will happen at the Israeli consulate. So the one I’m trying to organize is in Los Angeles. I did that last year, but it was just me and my family, and we didn’t know who to contact to try to organize this. I contacted Jewish Voice for Peace, and they’re going to help me organize.
AK: And at the rallies, do you plan on delivering the petition names to the Israeli consulate?
IJ: Well, we’re doing it beforehand but we’re also going ahead and giving the petitions out at the rally. We just have to keep on continuing no matter what the decision is on the 21st.
AK: What are your thoughts about that impending decision [which will now be reached on June 20]? Is there any hope?
IJ: Our lawyer seems to be optimistic. But you know, with the Israeli system you never know what will happen. But they seem to be optimistic because there’s quite a bit of evidence indicating that this is somewhat of a premeditated murder.
And Maxim had actually refused to listen to the orders that his commander gave him. Because once Shadi shot Ziad and he went on the floor, Shadi was the commander and he did tell Maxim, "hold off, don’t shoot." But he still went over there and shot him anyways. So we believe there’s enough evidence for them to continue and it’s a good sign the Supreme Court has sent it back to the criminal court. But then at the same time we don’t know how it’s going to move forward. They’ve never prosecuted any soldiers and they’re worried to prosecute soldiers because then they’re stating that the soldiers would be scared to shoot if they did that. But that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to tell them, don’t be trigger happy, you need to think about what you’re doing before you do it.
AK: And given the American connection, is there any thought to file suit in the US?
IJ: Well, I tried to look into that route, I didn’t get help from anybody. I contacted my Congressman, I contacted several people over here, and basically all they did is send a letter to the American consulate in Jerusalem in order to ask what the situation is. But frankly, nobody really did anything. But in order to do that in the US, you need a lot of money, you need a lawyer able to do that. I don’t know if they have jurisdiction to do something for the Israeli government. And frankly right now, we can’t put money down the drain, because we really don’t have much, and Moira is struggling already. I think whatever efforts we’re going to be doing for lawyers will be better put towards the family.
AK: I don’t have any more specific questions. Is there anything you want to add?
MJ: Basically, I want people to band together with me on June 11, and have a memorial wherever they live, and please just band together with me and my daughters, so this doesn’t happen to another human being, be they Israeli or Palestinian. It’s horrific--my daughter’s graduating in less than a month’s time, and she’s not going to have her father there. A man who she looks up to is no longer in her life. You cannot possibly imagine.
For me, I’m a strong person, but seeing my children without their father, that really hurts me, because he was not sick, he was on his way home ready to give his family a good time at the beach. And I just want to make sure you understand the situation. For me, this was premeditated murder. This guy Maxim stated it on his Facebook that he wanted to kill an Arab.
IJ: And not only that. These two soldiers changed their testimonies twice. When they first investigated them, they gave a testimony that Ziad hit the soldier, and he started running and we hit him from far and he fell down and died instantly. They didn’t indicate that he was shot at close range, and Shadi actually was trying to brag that he was the one who killed them, when actually it wasn’t, he was the one who fired the first shot. And he’s Druze, so he wants to prove himself to the Israeli government.
So basically they didn’t think we would exhume the body because this is totally unthinkable in Islam. And we actually had to get approval from the Islamic community in order to bring his body out in order to show them this was a close range shot, it wasn’t what they indicated it was. We exhumed the body three or four weeks after the accident happened, after the killing happened, and the same day they exhumed the body, they changed their testimony. And at that time Maxim admitted, yes he killed him at close range but he was confused, he couldn’t remember much, all of that stuff. And [when we exhumed the body,] it indicates he was shot at close range while Ziad was on the floor. It’s not like he was posing any threat, and you can see from the video that he was shirtless so he could see that he had nothing to pose a threat. And Shadi did indicate later after we exhumed the body that he did say to Maxim not to shoot, but he didn’t listen. And that’s the testimony of all the witnesses.
You know, they didn’t go and get testimonies of the witnesses. We had to initiate that. Amira Hass [the Haaretz reporter] and my brother went around the neighborhood to get testimonies of exactly what happened. There was no real investigation until we exhumed the body, and that’s when they started questioning Maxim and Shadi. And they finally said there’s not enough evidence to prosecute them.
MJ: And let me just add something that’s never been mentioned. Five days after we buried my husband, I think it was roughly the fifth day, usually Palestinians only have an hour before they bury their loved ones before they come and take over the house and try to find something in the house to make the person look like a terrorist. They gave me five days because I’m an American. When they called, I think it was the first day of the funeral or the second, there was a gentleman by the name of Barry [an Israeli doing the investigation], in English. First of all, he says, "this is Barry, how’s your health?"
Now, Bilal [Ziad's brother] has just gone through chemotherapy. People who had come to the funeral were thinking it was Bilal’s funeral they were coming to because they thought that he did not survive the chemo. And this man [Barry] turns to Bilal and says, “how’s your health?”
And so when he entered my house, he asked me, "why did Bilal not bring you and your brother-in-law down to the headquarters?" And I said, “oh, you're Barry. Who the hell turns to somebody whose had chemotherapy, who has cancer, and says how’s your health? Only the mafioso says something like that.” He was kind of taken aback.
This is something they do on a regular basis to intimidate the Palestinians. And he said afterwards when I didn’t back down, “well maybe you’re right.” And I said, “maybe?” And I just looked at him. So that gives you just a small inkling of what we’re up against. These people go after everything.
And they tried to get my computer. I told them basically, take it. You will never find anything on my husband. I said go ahead and take it. But I’ll tell you something. If you bring back anything and you plant something, I said, you’ll be up against me, because you’ll be a liar. You will never find anything on my husband because my husband was not in any political organization or anything. So if you claim that there’s something, you’ll be up against me, because I will make you look like the liar you are. But they didn’t find anything on my husband on my computer.
IJ: So, one thing about this Barry. He actually contacted Bilal several times in a threatening mode. And Bilal was just very upset because he kept calling and threatening, "we could do stuff to the family," and he always kept on telling him be glad you have your health right now. Bilal was very disturbed, because he would call him every time Bilal was going to the scene with Amira Hass. And every time, he would call him and have this threatening tone. And Bilal was thinking he was being followed, that they know exactly where he’s at.
MJ: It’s an intimidation tactic.