The immorality of mistaking victims for villains – opinion

This week’s sentencing of Arad resident Aryeh Schiff brought a long-standing Israeli debate on “purity of arms” to the fore. Although the crime for which he was convicted in July was not military in nature, the arguments surrounding it are reminiscent of those raised in relation to the IDF.
A year ago in December, the then 70-year-old was arrested for shooting and killing the 36-year-old Bedouin Mohammad al-Atrash, an ex-convict with a considerable record, who had broken into his car and was driving. far. Schiff recounted that he and his wife were awakened by a noise that they realized was a car theft in progress.

Then he ran out with his pistol drawn and fired two shots at the car. The first thing he did when he realized that the thief had been beaten was to call the police and an ambulance.

Paramedics evacuated Atrash to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where he was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Meanwhile, Schiff fully cooperated with the interrogators, admitting that he had not fired a warning shot into the air first. However, he claimed that he had targeted the car’s tires, not the thief in the driver’s seat.

“All my life, I will have to live with the fact that I accidentally killed someone,” Schiff told the Beersheba Magistrates Court. “My pain is deep for taking the life of a person … I am very sorry for the tragic event.”

An Israel Police car is seen in Beit Shemesh on October 30, 2021 (credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

However, POLICE AND prosecutors told a different story, based on video footage from the incident, which showed Schiff pointing his gun at Atrash. They appealed the court’s decision to release Schiff under house arrest during the investigation, requesting that he be charged with reckless manslaughter and claiming that he posed a flight risk. After extending his pre-trial detention three times at the behest of the prosecution, the court finally sent Schiff home.

The following July, three months ago, the Beersheba District Court rejected Schiff’s self-defense claim and convicted him of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to nine months of community service through a plea deal, thwarting the prosecution’s initial demand that he be jailed for four to six years.

Not surprisingly, responses to both the case itself and the verdict were divided along political lines, with the right supporting Schiff and the left assuming its usual bleeding heart stance.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz, for example, called the ruling a “disgrace”, warning against “normalization” of citizens who take the law into their own hands. Of course, he had to add: “I can’t help but think that if Schiff had been an Arab, his punishment would have been much more severe.”

Never mind that the second part of his statement is especially ridiculous, given the huge problem of violence and anarchy in the Arab sector, which the police and prosecutors have not been able to address and which the government continues to promise to rectify. Raz’s point was clear: to suggest that nationalism and racism are responsible for all of Israel’s social defects.

Speaking of which, “racist” is what the Bedouins who gathered in front of the Beersheba court to protest against Schiff’s “lenient” sentence yelled at right-wing MP Itamar Ben-Gvir when he arrived on the scene. There was a commotion when he called Schiff a “hero” who would not have had to shoot Atrash if the police had been effective in deterring crime in the south.

Ben-Gvir was referring to a particular extenuating circumstance. But there were many others that are crucial to understanding the big picture and forming a judgment.

ONE IS that Schiff has an impeccable record as a law-abiding citizen. Another is that he is a former volunteer with the Israel Police, so he was in possession of a legal firearm.

A third is that he is the father of a son, Ofer, who died 24 years ago in a car accident. In Ofer’s memory, he and his wife set up a tent in their yard to provide refreshments, free of charge, to hikers traversing the Israel National Trail, a path that crosses the country from its northern tip along from the border with Lebanon to its southernmost point in Eilat. Since the rest stop was established in 2009, the Schiffs have hosted more than 10,000 hikers.

A fourth is that before that fateful night he killed Atrash, three cars had already been stolen from him. In fact, he is one of a multitude of Arad residents who have been robbed by a gang of thieves with whom Atrash was likely associated.

Schiff’s reaction to seeing Atrash blatantly take off in his vehicle, then, was not the act of a trigger-happy vigilante. It was an impromptu move that deserved empathy.

When viewed in the context above, the shooting was not only understandable, but its aftermath will tear Schiff’s guts apart for the rest of his life. The Atrash family, while mourning their loss, would do well to acknowledge the risks involved in a life of crime, not to condemn the Israeli justice system from a lofty position.

SCHIFF’S PREACHING recalls the 2008 “Dromi Act”, named after Shai Dromi, a southern Israeli farmer accused of killing a burglar who broke into his home and poisoned his dog to prevent it from barking.

The culprit was a Bedouin named Khaled al-Atrash (no doubt from the same clan, if not a close relative, of the Atrash who tried to steal Schiff’s car). He died from his injuries despite Dromi’s attempts to resurrect him.

You heard right. Dromi administered CPR to the dangerous scoundrel who invaded her home to steal her belongings and murdered her pet. However, Dromi was arrested, detained for a month and prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter.

Although he was acquitted of that particular charge, he was found guilty of “illegal possession” of the weapon he used in the shooting, a rifle given to him by his father, who had not made an official transfer of ownership. During the entire period of the entire ordeal, his farm and his livelihoods naturally took a great hit.

Dromi’s plight aroused sympathy from the right. Only left-wing MPs opposed the legislation, proposed by Likud MP Israel Katz, to classify actions such as theirs, during home invasions deemed life-threatening, as “self-defense.” The rest of the Knesset voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.

While the “Dromi Law” does not apply to Schiff, because the thief in his case was on the run, the moral parallel is clear. In both cases, someone defending his property became the accused party, guilty until proven innocent, and not vice versa, due to a split-second decision that put him in the position of having to make.

LIKUD MP Amir Ohana, who had the public safety portfolio when Schiff shot Atrash, summed it up nicely at the time: “In fighting crime, there are good [guys] and wrong, ”he wrote on Facebook. “There are law-abiding citizens who work to protect themselves and their property, and there are violent and dangerous criminals who make their living in [their] expenses.”

The state, he said, is responsible for protecting the former, but “it is not possible to place a policeman on every corner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, [and] in the cases of citizens who act to protect themselves, the state must support them ”.

In the same post, Ohana cited the Israeli penal code, according to which “a person will not be held criminally responsible for an act that was immediately necessary to repel an illegal assault that posed a tangible danger of harm to his life, liberty, body or property “.

In other words, Schiff is not guilty even as far as the letter of the law is concerned. It is a shame, therefore, that he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and it was so many months before a reasonable compromise was reached, in the spirit of the law, on his punishment.

It can be dangerous, as Raz pointed out, for people to take that law into their own hands. However, it is downright immoral for a society to mistake victims for villains.

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