On Monday three Israelis who admitted to the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year old Palestinian who was burned to death over the summer after being abducted from behind his East Jerusalem home in a revenge killing for the unrelated kidnapping and slaying of three Israeli youths a month prior, will give their pleas in district court.
Yosef Haim Ben-David, a 29-year old settler is expected to plea insanity and is the assumed ringleader. The other defendants identities have been sealed by a gag order as they are minors. However, an Israeli judge will allow media and the public to attend tomorrow’s hearing, in effect lifting the ban on concealing their identities.
“Because of this special circumstances in this case, that the case became a case to the whole world, and the Gaza war occurred because of this case, I think the Israeli Ministry of Justice wants to make it more than a regular case.” said Mohanned Jabara, the lawyer representing the Abu Khdeir family.
Jabara is hopeful the state will take seriously the gruesome crime that was the lightening rod for clashes across every Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem. After the young Abu Khdeir’s body was found charred and deposited in a field hours after he was taken, his home community of Shuafat erupted. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police unfolded nightly for months, earning the title the “Jerusalem Intifada.” The light rail stop in Shuafat, to Palestinians a symbol of Israeli control over East Jerusalem, was torched several times during the upheaval. Police barricaded the road entrances in and out of Shuafat for weeks.
Criticisms of police methods persisted from the moment Abu Khdeir’s remains were discovered. Initially, while the autopsy was underway to determine if foul play had occurred—and whether the motivation was criminal or national—Jerusalem police manufactured a rumor to defame the victim. The authorities told journalists that the deceased was gay and likely killed by a family member in an honor crime. Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein Abu Khdeir was even interrogated at the medical complex and asked to surrender for questioning several of the male members of the family. This scandalous fabrication later led to the resignation of the Jerusalem police chief.
Despite a police investigation marred with soap drama misinformation and missteps, the state attorney’s office will prosecute Abu Khdeir’s killers to the fullest extent—not shying away from the nationalistic motivation of the crime. In advance of the trial the state released a deposition from the eldest defendant, settler Yosef Haim Ben-David who admitted he “planned to hurt a soul, meaning to kill… to torture him and kill him.”
Although Ben-David has claimed a mental health disorder the extent of his duress is unknown. During arraignment in July he reportedly stated that he is “the messiah.” His deposition released after the pre-trial is macabre and displays cold premeditation. He told police:
“I took three empty bottles from home, we found two more and we drove to the Hizmeh gas station. There, I filled five bottles with fuel, because we were furious and determined to burn something that belongs to Arabs.”
In a surprising move Israel’s state’s attorney office selected Uri Korv to prosecute Ben-David and the other two accused. Korv is an intrepid attorney with a record of bringing heavy sentences to embattled high profile criminals. He prosecuted the hearing against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, where the head of state was handed down a six-year prison term after being convicted of corruption over the Holyland apartment row.
Even with Korv, a signal Israel is leaning to unfurl a heavy hand against Abu Khdeir’s killers, Jabara thinks the trial will be lengthy. He said the defendants are being represented individually and have already switched lawyers a number of times. Ben-David in particular is poised to push back trial dates over his assertion of mental instability. “If they claim this matter, the court must go to a medical committee for a report before continuing with the court,” said Jabara indicating such delays could cause the trail to go on for a year and a half.