The lead suspect of a gruesome kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen two summers ago was sentenced today by a Jerusalem district court to life in prison, plus 20 years for additional crimes, ending a lengthy criminal trial that shook Palestinian communities across Israel and the occupied territory.
On July 2, 2014 Yousef Haim Ben-David, 31, and two underage accomplices burned alive 16-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat.
After the sentencing was announced the victim’s cousin Ansam Abu Khdeir told Mondoweiss the punishment was not enough, “he deserves more than he got, more than he will get,” she said.
Ben-David gave an apology to the Abu Khdeir family. The Israeli outlet Walla reports he told them, “I ask forgiveness from the family for everything that happened, it wasn’t under my control. It isn’t my personality, and I’m not that kind of person.”
Yet for the Abu Khdiers, the words were meaningless.
“His apology is not welcomed at all. He didn’t kill a chicken or an animal, he killed a human, he killed Mohammed, burned him alive. Just imagine that? I don’t think you even can,” Ansam Abu Khdier said in a hoarse voice, “I’ve been screaming,” she explained.
“I feel bad for us, not him. I know that he got a life sentence in prison, but that won’t bring Mohammed back for us.”
The two minors convicted for assisting in the killing were sentenced in February to a life-term, and 21 years in prison.
The criminal trial against the three murderers lasted more than one year. The Abu Khdeir family consistently appealed throughout the proceedings for ‘eye for an eye’ justice. Regularly after court sessions they told media outlets the killers should be burned alive and their homes razed. While Israel does not have the death penalty, punitive demolitions are practiced on the homes of relatives of Palestinians who kill Israelis in nationalistic attacks, but to-date, this punishment has not been enforced on Israeli killers. State prosecutors did seek the maximum sentence for all three of the defendants.
The murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir
On the morning of the murder the three assailants drove to East Jerusalem around 4am. They found Abu Khdeir alone, sitting on a ledge behind his home as he waited to greet relatives. It was the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Abu Khdeir was preparing to attend morning prayers at a mosque across the street from his house.
Feigning they were lost and in need of directions, Ben-David and the minor accomplices waved Abu Khdier over to approach their car. With the ruse, the three were able to quickly shove him into the back of their vehicle and speed off. They proceeded to beat Abu Khdeir and poured gasoline down his throat. The victim reportedly struggled throughout, and ultimately was set on fire while still conscious.
His body was dumped in a West Jerusalem field and recovered by police after sunrise.
Ben-David then confessed to the crime days after the murder, telling Israeli police and security agents he wanted to “burn something of the Arabs.”
“We said, ‘They took three of ours, let’s take one of theirs,’ and we decided to pick someone up, to kidnap him, beat him up and throw him out,” Ben-David told investigators.
The killing sparked unrest across Jerusalem with the Abu Khdeir home becoming the flashpoint for clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces. Israeli border police patrolled Shuafat and posted officers outside of the victim’s family home to prevent riots.
More than a dozen members of the Abu Khdeir clan were arrested in the weeks after the killing while protesting.
However, on several occasions, without warning, officers shot tear gas into the Abu Khdier’s courtyard where they were receiving condolences, filling with area with plumes of white smoke.
As a result, the grieving Abu Khdeir family quickly become a symbol of the phenomena of settler violence against Palestinians and tensions between East Jerusalem neighborhood and Israeli police. Their case forced these long-time issues into the mainstream Israeli discourse for a first time.
The slaying took place during heightened tensions in the region. Weeks before three Israelis were abducted and killed by Palestinians from a West Bank settlement bus stop while hitchhiking outside of Bethlehem. Ben-David told investigators that incident inspired him to commit murder. He wanted a Palestinian victim—any Palestinian.
Ben-David’s legal representative filed a psychological evaluation claiming his client was not mentally fit to stand trial. The judge rejected the insanity defense last month.