MARK AND ELLEN NEWMAN with Ariel at his high-school graduation a few months before his death..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On September 10, 2014, during a hike in the Judean Desert, Ariel Newman, 18, of Great Neck, New York, collapsed and died. The medical report cited exertional heat stroke and dehydration as the causes of death.
There are conflicting accounts of the circumstances that led up the young man’s death.
Yet, as a series of exposés by The Jerusalem Post’s legal analyst Yonah Jeremy Bob have shown, the Israel Police and the state prosecutor have failed to take the elementary step of questioning two key witnesses in order to get to the bottom of the case.
It is difficult to escape the impression held by Mark and Ellen Newman, Ariel’s bereaved parents, and by Amos Fried, the attorney representing the family, that if Ariel was Israeli, investigators would have investigated more thoroughly.
Compounding the Newman family’s frustration is the indication that the state prosecutor, after calling to reopen the case in July, is now planning to close the case again without questioning the witnesses. The very least the Newman family deserves is to know that Israel’s law enforcement did its very best to determine which of two conflicting accounts most accurately reflects what happened during the crucial hours preceding Ariel’s death.
One account defends the behavior of the staff at Mechinat Yeud, the now-defunct program for American Modern Orthodox 18-year-olds who spent a “gap” year between high school and college in Israel. The other account suggests negligence on Yeud’s part.
In May 2015, almost a year after the incident, Josh Ettinger, Yeud’s tour guide who led the group of 18-year-olds that included Newman through the desert, told police during questioning that Newman did not complain to him at all.
“There were no problems or instances in which someone solicited me [to stop the hike and get into a waiting car] or said to me that it was hard for him,” Ettinger said, according to a transcript of his testimony.
The police investigator then asked if Ettinger was really saying that none of the hikers complained.
Ettinger responded, “No. There was nothing, especially with Ariel who did not look in bad condition. Or even when he fell, he did not look hot or red, his face was white.”
But the eyewitness testimonies of two other people, one of whom came forward thanks to the Post’s exposés – which were largely ignored by other Israeli news media – paint a very different picture. The two claim that Newman complained to Ettinger several times that he was dehydrated. At one point, they say, he even screamed out to Ettinger that he could not go on.
When State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan took the unusual step of calling to reopen the case back in July, it was largely because it came to his attention that the two witnesses had not been questioned by the police. Now the case is about to be closed again, and again these testimonies have not been heard.
None of the above should be construed as an indictment of Ettinger or of Yeud’s staff. We are in no position to judge what happened. But the sad truth is that until the police and the state prosecutor question the two witnesses who were with Ariel when he collapsed in the Judean Desert, neither are they.
All of this raises questions about the seriousness with which the state prosecutor and the police are taking this case. Israeli law enforcers have a moral obligation to demonstrate to the Newman family that the fact that they are Americans has no bearing on the case.
This is especially important at a time when relations between Israel and American Jewry are tense and there is a feeling that the world’s two largest Jewish communities are growing apart.
Nothing will ever fill the space left by Ariel’s untimely death. But even a minimal sense of closure is impossible as long as the Newman family feels that Israel’s law enforcers are being less than diligent in carrying out their duty.