A military judge accepted a victim impact statement from the family of Asher Palmer on Wednesday, in a precedent-setting move that gives victims significantly greater recognition in military courts.
The judge accepted a written statement from Michael Palmer, the father of Asher Palmer, who was killed along with his baby son when Arabs threw rocks at his car on Route 60 near Hebron in September.
Wednesday’s hearing dealt with the case of Shehada Awad Shehada Shatat, who was not connected to the rock-throwing, but who saw the incident and immediately afterward robbed Palmer’s body without summoning medical help. Shatat was tried in February and sentenced in March to a 10-month prison term and a NIS 1,000 fine for stealing Asher Palmer’s gun.
But Michael Palmer said his family wanted a harsher sentence for Shatat.
“The thought of this guy desecrating Asher’s still-warm body is so horrible,” Palmer said in the Ofer Military Court on Wednesday. “This could have been the last person to see Asher alive... The knowledge of that abuse is very painful.”
In civilian criminal trials, judges routinely take victim impact statements into account when imposing punishments.
However, the Israeli courts in the West Bank operate under military law, not civilian law.
The Military Advocate-General’s Office did not inform the Palmer family of Shatat’s trial, a fact the Palmer family’s legal representative, former military court judge Adrian Agassi, discovered in May, two months after the sentencing.
On Wednesday, Palmer said he considered it an important victory that the judge had added his written statement to the case file and was reconsidering the sentence. Palmer is seeking a prison term for Shatat of at least three years, which is the typical sentence for someone convicted of desecrating a dead body in Israel.
“He saw the attack, he was able to pull off to the side of the road, descend 40 meters and look for a gun, probably turning Asher’s body over and even getting Asher’s blood on his hands,” said Palmer. “Then he took the gun and hid it under his clothes. This was not a crime of opportunity, I would expect someone who sees an event like that to be in shock.”
Palmer said the judge gave Shahat a lenient sentence because he was moved by his story that he was the sole breadwinner for eight children and he was planning to sell the gun.
But Palmer urged the judge to have the same compassion for his family.
In addition to the precedent of the victim impact statement, Asher Palmer’s murder was also the first time that a rock was designated as a deadly weapon.
The rock was thrown at Asher Palmer’s car from a car speeding in the opposite direction, exponentially increasing the force with which it hit the vehicle.
Two other Palestinian men – Ali Saadeh and Wa’al al-Arjeh from Halhoul near Hebron – were charged in the Ofer Military Court under military law with intentionally causing the deaths of Asher and Yonatan, equivalent to a murder charge under civilian law.
The case is being followed by the US Department of Justice and the State Department, both of which sent representatives to a earlier hearing on Sunday.
Michael Palmer, who now lives in Kiryat Arba, made aliya from the US in 1985, and Asher Palmer was an American citizen. Agassi said the US did not usually monitor overseas trials.
Public interest around the trial and the fact that the military court stopped the US consul from attending one of the early hearings may have prompted the US authorities to attend the Palmer trial, he suggested. The trial will continue on Monday.
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.