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Israel drops investigation into police shooting of Palestinian

The Palestinian motorist sideswiped police and then tried to flee when they opened fire. Israeli officials say the border policeman who shot the man in the head while he was lying in the road acted reasonably out of fear that the man was a terrorist.

January 19, 2011|By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Jerusalem — Israeli officials said Tuesday they were dropping a criminal probe of an Israeli border policeman who shot to death a Palestinian motorist after the man sideswiped a foot patrol of soldiers and then tried to escape when they opened fire.

Justice Ministry officials described the incident as a "lethal and rapid chain of events that ended tragically with a man's death," but said in a statement that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges.

Witnesses said the driver, Ziad Jilani, 41, had been shot at least once and was lying in the road when the Israeli officer walked up next to him and fired at his head with an M16 rifle, killing him instantly.

Investigators said the Israeli policeman initially lied to them by denying his role in the incident and had made a "grave" mistake in judgment during the June 11 shooting. But they concluded that he reacted reasonably out of fear that the driver was a terrorist, according to the Justice Ministry statement.

Government investigators said it was possible that Jilani had momentarily lost control of his car as he attempted to circumvent an East Jerusalem traffic jam, accidentally veering into a group of soldiers on foot. At least two soldiers suffered what authorities called "light injuries."

Jilani's widow, Texas-born Moira Jilani, called the ministry's decision not to prosecute "ridiculous. That man executed my husband by shooting him point-blank. If that's not criminal, what is?"

She criticized Israeli officials for taking seven months to reach the decision and said she planned to meet with her attorney to discuss their next step, which might include a private lawsuit.

"This shows the racism in Israel," said Jilani, a mother of three. She said Israeli soldiers and police officers are rarely punished for killing or injuring Palestinians.

"They've been sitting on their hands for months to see if I would give up and go back to the U.S.," she said. "But I'm not going anywhere."

According to the government statement, the officer initially denied shooting Ziad Jilani. But he changed his story after the family agreed to exhume Jilani's body to prove he had been shot at close range.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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