The Haifa District Court on Monday convicted seven Israeli Arabs on a number of charges, including attempted manslaughter, in the killing of Eden Natan Zada, the Jewish terrorist who murdered four Israeli Arabs and wounded 17 people on a bus on August 4, 2005.

However, the court acquitted the defendants, who are residents of Shfaram, of attempted murder.

Despite pleas of self-defense and highlighting the fact that Jews in similar circumstances had been found entirely innocent, four of the defendants were found guilty of attempted manslaughter and two were convicted of intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

All six defendants were found guilty of activities leading to damage of the bus. The seventh defendant, Monir Zakoot, was found guilty only of attacking police.

While attempted murder is punishable by a 20-year prison sentence, attempted manslaughter generally carries a much less harsh punishment.

Three of the defendants are Muslim, three are Druse and one is Christian. None of them were accused of murder in the indictment, filed on June 7, 2009.

The court explained its decision to exonerate the defendants on the charge of attempted murder by saying that it was difficult to prove intent in such a complicated situation and that the defendants had been uniquely provoked by Zada’s “abominable and murderous” actions.

Ahead of the verdict’s announcement, some of the defendants and various community representatives alleged that the defendants had only been protecting themselves and that the entire prosecution showed a bias against Israeli Arabs.

Zada, an AWOL soldier who was wearing his IDF uniform when he opened fire with his army-issued M-16 on a crowded bus, was beaten to death afterward by an angry mob, including some of the defendants.

The court said that “our heart is with the bereaved families who, due to the abominable and murderous actions, lost their loved ones – Michil Bahus, Nadar Haich and the sisters Zaar and Dina Torchi, of blessed memory.”

At the same time, the court added that “a proper society and state cannot permit the fulfillment of blood vengeance and lynching actions, even if the actions are performed against a murderer.”

“Vengeance is for God, and punishment is the function of the judicial authorities,” the court stated.

It also discussed varying impacts on its view of the case, in light of the fact that, due to the chaos of the moment, different defendants may not have even known while attacking Zada if he was still alive, or if they were just kicking a dead corpse, as it is likely that he was beaten even after his death.

After an initial rampage, Zada was neutralized, his weapon taken and he was placed in handcuffs while being mildly roughed up. However, after he was arrested, an angry mob wanting retribution tried to storm the bus and began throwing metal objects and bottles.

The police and some of the Israeli Arabs in the vicinity were able to prevent the mob from killing Zada, though he and the police were being attacked.

At this point, defendants Arkaan Korbag and Fadi Nasrallah attacked Zada. It is unclear if there was more than a general threat to Zada, which was why they were not convicted of attempted manslaughter.

However, concerned that gas leaking from the bus might lead to an explosion, several police officers started to evacuate the bus.

The crowd responded by surging onto the bus, neutralizing the reduced police force still protecting Zada and beating him to death.

Defendants Naaman Bahus, Basal Kadri, Basal Hativ and Jamil Sfori attacked Zada at this point, when he was killed, and were therefore convicted of attempted manslaughter.

The seventh defendant was acquitted of all charges other than attacking police because most of the evidence against him was thrown out as having been unlawfully obtained.

An undercover agent in prison, posing as a fellow inmate, convinced him not to cooperate with his defense attorney and got him to make self-incriminating statements in unlawful ways.

The remaining lawfully obtained evidence could only prove that he attacked police.

Following the attack, the monitoring committee of the Israeli-Arab leadership called on the police not to investigate the lynching aspect, saying that those involved acted in self-defense.

Photographic evidence, however, indicated that Zada was beaten to death after he had already been subdued and handcuffed by police.

The police set up a special investigative team to examine the circumstances of the attack.

While the arrests were met with stiff criticism from leaders in the Israeli-Arab community, the police said that the arrests set an important precedent.

“I know that there are people – and not just in Shfaram – who will deepen their trauma, and who believe that justice was carried out against the terrorist. But to the overwhelming majority, it is clear that in an orderly country, one cannot take the law into one’s own hands,” said Northern District Cmdr. Dan Ronen at the time.

Senior police officers in the Northern District stressed at the time that it was up to the courts – not the police – to determine whether the seven were guilty of murder or whether their actions were justified.

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