Attorneys and supporters of a Border Guard officer who is currently serving a nine-month sentence for causing the death of an Arab rioter slammed a decision Sunday by prosecutors to appeal the sentence and demand a tougher one. Attorney Tzion Amir, who is representing the officer, Ben Deri, called the decision by prosecutors to appeal to the Yerushalayim District Court for an extension of the officer’s jail sentence “an act that should never have taken place. It is actually a very shocking decision, given that the officer is already serving a sentence for negligence. It is decisions like these that are leading the Knesset to propose legislation to prevent the prosecution from getting involved in such appeals.”
The case of Ben Deri began in 2014, when the officer was on duty in the Arab village of Beitounia, north of Yerushalayim, on “Nakba Day” (May 15th), as Arabs were rioting, throwing stones, concrete blocks, and firebombs at soldiers and Border Guard officers. The Israeli forces were firing rubber bullets at the rioters, but in Deri’s weapon there was apparently a live bullet among the rubber bullets. The bullet hit a 17-year-old Arab rioter, killing him. Deri was arrested – originally on charges of manslaughter – but the charges were eventually reduced to negligent murder, after Deri claimed he was unaware that a live bullet had been in his weapon, and that given the circumstances, there was no way to check in advance.
In a plea deal, defense and prosecutors agreed to the reduced charge, and Deri was sentenced to nine months in prison, and a NIS 50,000 payment to the family, along with an extended parole period after his release.
However, prosecutors decided, they told the court in their appeal, that the punishment was too light for Deri’s putative crime. As an officer and commander of a unit, the prosecutors said, Deri had a greater responsibility to ensure that he fulfilled the policies of the army, which include respect for life.
Shmuel Meidad, head of the Honenu rights organization, which is assisting the defense, told Channel 20 that the prosecutors’ move was “shameful. They have an obsession to persecute soldiers who are defending the county. We do not see this kind of motivation on their part when it comes to prosecuting the terrorists who harm our soldiers and citizens.”
Sunday also happened to be the last opportunity for prosecutors to protest the sentence, another fact that has angered supporters of the officer. Attorney Amir said that the timing of the appeal is “unacceptable. This is why MK David Amsalem has proposed laws against the intervention of prosecutors in cases like this.”
Amsalem (Likud) said recently that he plans on introducing a law that would prevent the state from seeking harsher penalties for individuals convicted of various crimes, if their initial sentence was ten years or less. Amsalem said that it was inappropriate for the state to throw its weight behind the “pursuit” on an individual with far fewer resources, just to increase his or her punishment by a few years. “In order to balance the power between the state and the individual, the defendant should be the one with a greater right of appeal than the state. The right of the state to appeal a punishment should be reserved for special and specific cases. A moral country does not pursue a citizen who was already judged, albeit less harshly than prosecutors wanted.”