Justice Ministry exonerates police officer who shot dead mentally ill Arab man

Internal affairs body says officer felt ‘genuine concern for his life’ during controversial incident in February; family of late Munir Anabtawi to appeal

Family members of 33-year-old Munir Anabtawi, who was shot to death after trying to stab a police officer, mourn at their home in Haifa, March 30, 2021. (Roni Ofer/Flash90)
Family members of 33-year-old Munir Anabtawi, who was shot to death after trying to stab a police officer, mourn at their home in Haifa, March 30, 2021. (Roni Ofer/Flash90)

The Justice Ministry closed an investigation on Sunday into a police officer who shot and killed a mentally ill Arab Israeli man in Haifa in February, saying that the officer reasonably feared for his life.

“Despite the tragic result, the incident progresses out in accordance with law and procedures,” the Police Internal Investigations Department, the Justice Ministry body that looks into allegations of police brutality, said in a statement.

Munir Anabtawi, a mentally ill Arab Israeli man, reportedly underwent a psychotic episode in late March. His mother attempted to call an ambulance, but accidentally reached the police, whose arrival led to tragic results.

According to PIID, after arriving at the scene, the policeman addressed Anabtawi, not knowing he was the subject of the phone call. Anabtawi hid a knife in his possession behind his back as he directed the officer down the street. As soon as his back was turned, Anabtawi began to chase the officer down the street, swinging the knife at him, PIID said.

Munir Anabtawi with his sister. (Mossawa Center)

In security camera footage, Anabtawi can be seen brandishing what looks like a knife and chasing the police officer.

“Out of genuine concern for his life, the policeman pulled out his pistol and fired three shots at the deceased, two of which hit the deceased and eventually resulted in his death,” PIID said in a statement.

Anabtawi’s family have accused the police of using excessive force against Munir, whom they say could have been subdued without taking his life.

“Why five bullets? Fine, give him one. He’s down. But one, and another, and another and another. They neutralized him,” Munir’s brother Amir Anabtawi told Channel 12 in March, adding that the police had “assassinated” his brother.

Following the Justice Ministry’s announcement on Sunday, the Anabtawi family vowed to appeal the decision. In a statement, they said they were also considering filing a civil suit against the officer.

The family also refused to meet with members of the PIID team who decided to close the case against the officer, the Justice Ministry said.

While the PIID’s purview is to investigate police misconduct, left-wing politicians and Arab Israelis have increasingly criticized the division in recent months, charging that its investigations rarely result in indictments.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who oversees the Israeli police force, has publicly backed the officer who shot Anabtawi. Ohana asserted shortly after the shooting that the cop had Ohana’s “full appreciation” for “acting as expected of him.”

Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Israel’s Psychiatric Association sent a statement shortly after the shooting to Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, saying that he should “immediately establish training arrangements and intervention teams to treat cases involving [populations with] psychiatric [disorders].”

Last year, in a similar incident, police shot and killed a 30-year-old mentally ill man named Shirel Habura. The police said Habura attempted to stab a police officer.

Police also shot and killed Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man, in the Old City of Jerusalem last year. A case against one of the officers who killed Halak is scheduled to go forward, pending a hearing.

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