One year and eight months have passed since my brother Shalom was murdered by a terrorist. One year and eight months since that accursed evening in early spring, and the court case still hasn't ended. If all goes well, then in the very beginning of 2017 the Jerusalem District Court will hand down judgment on the murderer, and a circle will be closed, at least on the dry, judicial level.
Each court hearing is a difficult experience. Another meeting with the murderer and his family, another irrelevant cross-examination that borders on the ridiculous - about vehicle machinery, precise force of impact, and the murderer's medical history. Maybe those are the rules of the game, but if it were up to me I would have preferred for myself and my family not to be present in the courtroom.
But the State of Israel leaves us no choice but to appear in court ourselves, because this particular case does not interest it. It is not a cause for concern to the law-enforcement system if the murderer ends up in prison or in a closed psychiatric institution with a mental health plea, whether the sentence is life in prison or twenty years before wiping out a third. It makes no difference to anyone whether the murderer eventually does get released to freely wander the streets of Jerusalem. Where Shalom won't.
On paper, everyone did his job. The prosecutor wrote a severe indictment, and the judges ran the trial according to the rules, and of course the defending attorneys used every trick in the book - that's their job, after all. But the case was not pursued as though they mean it. When the system wants to, it knows how to achieve stronger and swifter results.
Worse: I suspect that had we not made noise in time, and invited the public to attend the trial, the sentencing would have looked different, would have been lighter. These are not merely my feelings or imaginings. Senior officials in the prosecutor's office told us explicitly that, in their experience, when families of the victims are present and accompany the trial throughout the entire process, sentencing is heavier. And if this is the way things are, what choice is left to us? To leave the court chamber empty and allow the murderer to escape justice?
I'm not even discussing vengeance (which in my eyes is absolutely a positive, proper, and human thing - and certainly not a dirty word), only the minimum of justice mandated by law. Shalom was murdered before the official terror wave. Just like that, with no war in the background, or escalation, or body count from the last round. Another one of the thousands of Jews murdered here since the Return to Zion, those killed way before there was ever a State or "occupation." Only five months later, on Rosh Hashanah 5776 when the attacks became more frequent, did the bodies of the "latest terror wave" or the "third Intifada" begin to be counted as such. The most infuriating sentence to be heard here since then was: "There is no solution for terror committed by lone wolves." One may argue about tactics and methods, but to "absorb" a fewscore murders this year is not a policy. Whoever has no solution is invited to vacate his seat for someone who does.
The fact that my brother is dead does not make me an expert in anti-terror operations, but one needn't be a military or legal commentator to understand that the first step towards a solution is deterrence. One who intends to murder takes the consequences to himself and to his family into consideration, and those who succeed him also follow the story.
And what does the murderer's neighbor from Anata see?
He sees that over a year-and-a-half has already passed with no resolution. Not because a sophisticated dragnet is being set to catch the murderer, or because a painstaking process of gathering evidence is taking place. He was arrested on the same night, in the place of the murder, and the incident was sharply, horribly captured on film, leaving no room for questions. It has not been concluded because there is no effort to mete out justice soon after the attack.
Meanwhile, life for the murderer is actually just fine: A child has been born to him, he receives a steady paycheck courtesy of the Palestinian Authority. He meets with his family regularly, including in the courtroom, and who knows? Maybe he'll get a shortened sentence for "mental health considerations." Even if not, he will be imprisoned in deluxe conditions, will complete academic degrees, and the hope is always there that he will be released early in a swap or "confidence-building measure" that will set him loose on the streets. The State didn't even seek to destroy his house, lest the Supreme Court reject that option, given their decisions this year.
Blood-vengeance ceased to be an option long ago, and we rightly expect people not to take the law into their own hands. Indeed, this murder was not an isolated event but was part of a national struggle, and therefore it is fitting that it should also be resolved on that level.
But the State of Israel abrogates the basic contract between a citizen and his state. The obligation to do everything to exact the maximum penalty in order to prevent the next murder.
The bereaved families are left alone throughout the judicial process, just as they find themselves running alone to the Supreme Court to prevent the release of murderers in a deal - to no avail.
I do not speak or write much about this subject; it upsets me, and anyway in a few weeks the saga will be behind us. But there is no choice. If this remains my personal problem as each family has to deal with "its own" murderer, this subject will still remain relevant when we look back at 2017.