A Palestinian teenager was charged with aggravated murder on Tuesday for running over and killing an Israeli police officer at a checkpoint near the central city of Ra’anana last month.
The 17-year-old is accused of entering Israel illegally and driving well over the speed limit in a stolen car, with which he ran over Master Sergeant Barak Meshulam, 29.
According to the indictment, the Ramallah teen stole a car in the Tel Aviv area, then headed north.
The prosecution alleged that the teen drove at high speeds with his headlights off in an attempt to use the cover of darkness to return to Palestinian territory undetected.
However, software installed in the vehicle alerted police that the car had been stolen and enabled them to track the vehicle.
Police pursued the stolen car as it sped along the highway, repeatedly calling out over a loudspeaker in both Hebrew and Arabic for the car to pull over. The driver refused to stop as he raced toward Ra’anana junction at over 145 km/h (90 mph).
Receiving updates via police radio, Meshulam, a father of two young children, had driven to the junction and set up a roadblock to stop the car, prosecutors said.
Seeing the roadblock in front of him, the teen changed lanes before striking Meshulam, who was standing on a traffic island.
After hitting Meshulam, the driver continued down the highway until he hit a concrete pipe. As police fired warning shots the teen fled on foot, but he was arrested in nearby Kfar Saba some 30 minutes later.
Following his arrest, suspect told the police that he had hit the officer in an attempt to avoid hitting a vehicle.
“I reached the roadblock and I saw a vehicle in the middle of the road — I swerved to avoid hitting it,” he said, according to the Kan public broadcaster. The report said police dispute the suspect’s version of events.
In addition to the aggravated murder charge, the suspect was also charged with entering Israel illegally, stealing a car, driving without a license, driving without insurance, intentionally endangering lives on a public road, intentional damage and obstructing a police officer.
The incident sparked a public debate regarding the freedom of Israeli police officers to open fire.
After the incident, Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai clarified that officers are permitted to open fire on “anyone who endangers the lives of officers while attempting to break through a checkpoint.”
But at Meshulam’s funeral, his widow, Ariella Meshulam, interrupted Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, claiming that the strict open-fire rules led to her husband’s death.
In a meeting the following week, Prime Minister Lapid told Barlev that he “fully backs police personnel and the other security forces in their fight against crime and terrorism, and greatly appreciates their daily activity on behalf of the security of the citizens of Israel,” according to a statement.
The two “emphasized that there is no change in the rules of engagement for police officers and that every officer is authorized to use lethal force if they feel that they are in a situation where lives are endangered.”
Right-wing organizations and politicians have long criticized what they describe as the country’s overly strict open-fire policies, both in the police and military.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report