Prosecutors close probe into cops’ disputed killing of Arab man in Jerusalem

State attorney says ‘no crime was committed’ by police officers who killed Mohammed Elasibi after they say he grabbed one of their guns, fired it repeatedly

Mohammed Elasibi. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Mohammed Elasibi. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The State Prosecutor’s Office announced Thursday that it would be closing a probe into police officers who shot dead an Arab-Israeli man they say attacked them in Jerusalem’s Old City two weeks ago.

State Attorney Amit Aisman said he would shut the probe without charges over the conduct of the police officers involved in the shooting of Mohammed Elasibi, 26, on March 31, which the cops said was self-defense after he snatched a gun from one of them and fired it at officers.

Police’s version of events has been disputed and his family has decried it as a “cold-blooded killing.”

Police have been adamant that the killing of Elasibi was in response to an attempted attack. They said he grabbed an officer’s gun and fired it at a group of border policewomen. Two border policewomen backed up that assertion, saying Elasibi had indeed fired the gun at them and missed before a second policeman shot him.

Eyewitnesses and Arab officials have mostly rejected that version of events, and former police officials said it was “hard to believe” the force’s insistence that the shooting wasn’t captured on any of the many CCTV cameras in the area.

But a probe by the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) has now been closed “due to the lack of an offense,” Aisman’s office said in a statement, which added that the incident indeed happened in a location not covered by any cameras and that the cops didn’t have time to activate their body cameras.

After examining the evidence, prosecutors arrived at the conclusion that it supports police’s version of events, and that there is “clear, direct and concrete evidence that no crime was committed” by officers.

A few days after the incident, police released a report stating that Elasibi’s DNA had been found on the grip and slide of a police officer’s gun, bolstering their statement that he had grabbed the weapon before being shot.

Mourners at the funeral of Mohammed Elasibi, who was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City after allegedly stealing an officer’s weapon, in the southern town of Hura, April 2, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Elasibi’s death occurred near the flashpoint Temple Mount as security forces were on alert during the sensitive Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Police said Elasibi was stopped by officers for questioning when he attacked one of them, grabbed his firearm, and managed to fire off two shots during a struggle. The officers felt threatened and responded with gunfire, “neutralizing him on the spot,” police said at the time.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir praised Thursday’s decision to close the probe, saying it was “good that the prosecution accepted the testimony of the brave police officers who neutralized a terrorist attempting an attack on the Temple Mount.”

Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi tweeted in response to the news that the acronym for the PIID in Hebrew should actually stand for the “Police Coverup Department.”

Fellow party MK Aida Touma-Sliman accused the PIID of conducting a shallow investigation and ignoring “the cameras which surprisingly disappeared.” Touma-Sliman added that Israeli cops operating in East Jerusalem “know that they will never be prosecuted for any killing of a Palestinian… which is why they allow themselves to act like this again and again.”

Elasibi’s family has rejected police’s version of events, saying that he was a medical student who posed no threat to police officers and had no history of radical behavior. One of his sisters called police claims about the incident “false and slanderous,” and described her brother as a “polite and well-mannered person who loved helping others and [had] a peaceful personality.”

Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City after a shooting incident early on April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Many in the Arab community were outraged by Elasibi’s killing, leading to a one-day general strike in response to his death.

In a statement earlier this month, the Arab rights group Mossawa Center accused police of “manipulating investigative materials and obstructing the investigation.”

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