Today, a Jerusalem district court convicted the ringleader of the 2014 murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted near his home in East Jerusalem and burned alive. The defendant, Yosef Haim Ben-David, 30, will be sentenced in the coming weeks. He along with two minors kidnapped Abu Khdeir and beat and killed the youth. The slaying prompted weeks of unrest and gained international prominence as a high-profile case of settler violence against Palestinians.
Ben-David resided in the West Bank settlement off Adam, prior to carrying out the crime.
In February two minors involved in the killing were sentenced to a life term and 21 years in prison. Their identities have not been disclosed by state prosecutors, as customary in Israel.
This morning’s verdict comes after a delay. Four months ago a lawyer representing Ben-David filed a late motion to review his client’s mental condition, in a hearing that otherwise would have produced a verdict. Ben-David’s legal affairs are being handled by the Israeli right-wing organization Honenu, a non-profit firm that advocates for soldiers and settlers accused of crimes, according to the group’s website.
Ben-David did not enter a plea of not-guilty by reason of insanity during arraignment. In fact, he refused to enter a plea at all and from the outset of the trial he exhibited erratic behavior.
Ben-David once declared in court that he was the “messiah.” At other hearings he refused to address the judge, and earlier this month he set fire to a jail cell.
The victim’s family speculated the courtroom behavior was staged in an attempt to build a defense against criminal liability.
“We knew from the beginning that he was not crazy but rather a liar. It hurts us very much. The trial lasted too long, this is the 35th hearing. Every time we see him our blood boils,” father of the victim, Hussein Abu Khdeir told the Israeli outlet YNet today after the ruling.
Ultimately the judge today rejected the physiological evaluation Ben-David’ lawyer had produced.
Initially Ben-David complied with police and presented a coherent demeanor. Following his arrest nearly a month after the murder he made an extensive confession to Israel’s security agency and Jerusalem police detailing preparations he and two accomplices made.
“We were hot and angry, and decided we’d burn something of the Arabs,” Ben-David told police, according to a leaked transcript published by Israel’s Haaretz. “We went to Armon Hanatziv [an East Jerusalem settlement] to try to find an Arab shop to burn, and then we talked and decided to take it up a notch,” he added.
Ben-David even took investigators on a re-enactment tour of the crime across Jerusalem.
For the victim’s family, the trial marks a conclusion of a two year legal battle. Despite three guilty verdicts, Abu Khdeir’s relatives want more. Consistently they have called for the demolition of their son’s murders’ homes, a controversial practice of deterrence Israel carries out against the relatives of Palestinians accused of killing Israelis in violent attacks.