On Wednesday, March 13th Ziad Jilani’s wife, Moira, and their three children were given a glimmer of hope from the inside of the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem. In June, 2010 Ziad Jilani was shot and killed by border police after a road collision involving his car and Magav officers on the main road into Wadi Joz, in occupied East Jerusalem. On Wednesday, Israeli Supreme Court judges decided to personally review all the evidence from the case. “It is unprecedented that the court asks to look at the evidence by themselves,” said the family’s lawyer speaking from outside the courtroom.
Jilani was driving home from noon prayers when the incident occurred. He had just rung his wife to tell her to prepare the kids to go out for a day at the beach. Shortly after his car swerved out of his lane and hit four police officers who had been standing by the side of the road. The reason behind his sudden swerve is unknown, but neighbours claim that he was trying to avoid stones being thrown by kids at the police.
Jilani kept driving; he drove down an alleyway where his uncle lived as officers showered the vehicle with bullets and then attempted to make his way by foot. During the shooting a 5 year old girl was injured in a nearby car. According to Maxim Vinogrodov and Shadi Hir al Din, the two officers who chased Jilani, they shot him until they had “neutralised him.” He eventually fell. Vinogrodov clearly stated in the course of the investigation when asked whether he shot Ziad after he fell “I definitely didn’t. Regarding anyone else—I don’t remember who fired, there was just me and Shadi.”
Jilani was pronounced dead on June, 11th 2010, the same day as the shooting. It was only after the family petitioned for an autopsy that one was conducted and witnesses were referred to the Police Investigations Unit, the Machash. The autopsy revealed four shots in his body, with expert forensics stating the cause of death was severe damage to the brain caused by the passage of two bullets through the head fracturing of the skull. This discovery supports the eye witness testimony that Jilani was actually shot by Vinogrodov at point blank range after having fallen to the ground, which is a distinctly different narrative than that offered by the officers.
However Vinogrodov and Hir al Din's altered their version of events after the results of the autopsy report. In his second testimony, Vinogrodov stated:
“I approached the terrorist while he was lying on his stomach on the ground, in order to ascertain that he was no longer dangerous and didn’t have a bomb. Just then he moved his hand. It could have been anything, a knife, a gun, an attempt to activate a bomb, and because I was close to him, I shot without taking aim with my gun. I’d only come to check him, after all, and as far as I know, I hit him in the head.”
Hir al Din said, "[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 ..." Note the last line, the submission of which was not mentioned when he was questioned in the hours after the shooting.
Their version of events still differs from another narrative that surfaced from the accounts eye-witnesses who were at the scene. Asmar Q., 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."
Despite the eye witness accounts and forensic evidence, the State Prosecutor decided to close the case on January 16th 2011, stating lack of evidence. Border Police spokesman Shai Hakimi, said in response to an inquiry from Haaretz: "The incident has been investigated and examined by the Police Investigations Unit and the investigation file was closed due to lack of guilt.” Hir al Din had been arrested directly after the incident but on the same day was released and his weapon returned to him. The investigations unit ignored anti-Arab rhetoric that Vinogrodov had used on social networking sites, where he listed his favourite food as "Arabs" and described his hobbies as "hitting and destroying things." A week before the shooting he shared a desire to "annihilate Turkey and all Arabs from the world" in an exchange with a friend on Facebook.
But Moira and her three daughters were determined not to let Ziad's killer escape justice. The following month, on the 15th of February 2011 the family submitted an appeal to the legal adviser to the government, against the closing of the case by Machash. On November 13th 2011, the State Prosecutor Menachem Mazuz issued in his final decision on the appeal and decided not to alter the previous decision. But the family would not give up. On the January 4th they submitted another appeal, this time to the Israeli Supreme Court through al-Mazan Center for Human Rights, demanding that the new state prosecutor, Yehuda Weinstein, bring criminal charges against Jilani’s murderers. For the third time they appealed to the Israeli authorities for justice.
On the 13th of this month the case was heard at the Supreme Court. The defence claimed that their defendants were afraid and in fear of their lives and of the lives of those around them, offering up the usual “terrorism” justifications. Vinogrodov's lawyer claimed criminal intent could be argued on Jilani’s case. Hir al Din’s lawyer argued that if a police officer is put on trial for doing his job, trying to protect Israel from terrorist attacks, it would weaken the whole system. The State Prosecutor explained their decision not to press charges by claiming they could not prove who is in the wrong beyond reasonable doubt. However the judges ruled that the State Prosecutor, who had previously not charged those who shot and killed Jilani, is now obliged to hand over all evidence to the Supreme Court by March 24th.
“Now I have hope. Before today I didn’t, honestly I didn’t,” said Moira.
“It’s been a long time. I keep fighting and after this I will keep fighting if we don’t see justice. It’s not just Ziad who was killed that day, the whole of humanity was killed. Jews, Muslims, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, you are still a human being,” Moira said outside the Supreme Court after Wednesdays hearing.
Speaking to the International Solidarity Movement before the trial Moira said regarding facing her husband’s killers for the third time, “I am dreading facing them for my daughters, I think I could face them myself but I’m afraid that when I see the pain in my daughters eyes it will kill me”. Vinogrodov did not turn up to court, Hir al Din made a brief appearance at the back of the courtroom, sitting behind Moira and her children. After playing on his phone seemingly uninterested he left before the hearing finished.
Jilani’s story highlights the complete lack of accountability within the Israeli army. A recent Yesh Din report revealed out of 240 complaints submitted to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID) regarding suspected criminal offences committed against Palestinians or their property by Israeli soldiers in 2012, none led to an indictment. From a combined total of 492 complaints filed to the MPCID in the last two years there has been only 1 indictment.
All too often Palestinian men they are viewed as “terrorists” by virtue of their identity alone. If Jilani's appeal doesn't result in justice it will yet again prove impunity rules and it will help ensure more lives lost.