The Jerusalem District Court handed down multiple life sentences on Thursday to two Palestinian terrorist cell members convicted of murdering American tourist Kristine Luken and Zichron Ya’acov resident Neta Sorek.

Judges Jacob Zaban, Miriam Mizrahi and Raphael Carmel imposed two consecutive life sentences plus an additional 60 years in prison on Kifah Ghanimat, 34, considered the leader of the cell.

RELATED:
Trial begins for killers of hiker Kristine Luken


Kifah was convicted under a plea bargain in which he admitted to murdering Luken in the Mata forest outside Jerusalem in December 2010, and of murdering Sorek near the Beit Jamal monastery near Beit Shemesh in February 2010. He was also convicted of unlawful entry into Israel, stealing weapons, weapons trading and four counts of attempted murder and rape.

The court also handed down a life sentence plus an additional 16 years in prison to Ibrahim Ghanimat, 33, another member of the terrorist cell, who was convicted under a plea bargain of murdering Sorek and on other charges including car theft and unlawful entry into Israel.

In sentencing Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat, the judges spoke of the “harsh and cruel acts” they had committed.

According to the indictment, Ibrahim and Kifah murdered Sorek while she was spending time at the Beit Jamal monastery. The terrorist cell members entered Israel illegally on February 23, 2010, from Surif, a town in the PA-controlled area around Hebron. A day later, according to the indictment, after breaking into a house and then stealing a car from Beit Shemesh, they drove to the Beit Jamal monastery intending to return to Surif under cover of darkness. However, they spotted Sorek walking alone in the monastery gardens and decided to murder her for nationalistic reasons, stabbing Sorek to death, then fleeing the scene in the stolen car, the indictment states.

Months later, on December 18, 2010, Kifah and another cell member, Aiad Fatfata, decided to enter Israel again specifically to murder Jews, the indictment said. Again, they chose the area around Beit Shemesh, and came across Kristine Luken and Kay Wilson walking in the woods.

Luken was stabbed to death, but Wilson managed to escape the same fate by playing dead and later fleeing despite serious stab wounds.

Kifah Ghanimat was also convicted of one count of aggravated rape. According to the indictment, the victim, a Beit Shemesh resident, knew Kifah for several years before he attacked her in July 2009.

Kifah tied the victim’s hands, dragged her into a cave near the Beit Jamal monastery and raped her at knifepoint.

The plea bargains signed by Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat did not include any deal over punishment, and as is usual in Israeli murder trials, those affected by the crime – including the families of both murder victims – gave impact statements to the court during the sentencing phase.

“We don’t just hear the cries of the victims in our imaginations, but also in the enormous pain felt by their families,” said the judges.

Sorek’s parents and husband described how they had difficulty in coping with the loss of their beloved daughter and wife. Sorek’s 12-year-old daughter was particularly affected and would need help for some years to come, the court learned.

Sorek, aged 53, had been an English teacher in Zichron Ya’acov for 13 years, and as a member of the feminist group “Women for Peace,” Sorek had participated in Arab-Jewish coexistence projects.

Sorek’s husband, Amotz, also wrote a letter to the judges in which he described the loss felt by the family.

Luken’s father, Larry, who came to Israel from San Antonio, Texas to give an impact statement to the court, described how he had received his daughter’s shirt with 12 holes from the 12 stab wounds she received, and spoke of the gaping hole Luken’s death left in his family.

In moving testimony to the court during the trial, Luken’s friend Wilson described how she survived the terrifying attack by playing dead.

She recalled how two men attacked her and Luken, binding their hands behind their backs with shoelaces, gagging them with parts of a fleece jacket and stabbing them multiple times with a 30 cm.-long serrated knife.

Wilson was stabbed 12 times and suffered several broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken sternum.

Wilson’s testimony to police led to the terrorist cell’s discovery and arrest.

“If Kay Wilson had not pretended to be dead and had not survived, [Kifah Ghanimat] would have continued to harm innocent victims,” the judges said on Thursday.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post by telephone after the sentencing on Thursday, Wilson said she was “relatively pleased” by the harsh sentences imposed on Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat. “But even the death penalty would not be enough for the crimes they committed,” Wilson added.

Wilson praised the Israeli legal system, the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for doing what she said was an “amazing job” in bringing Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat to justice.

But looking to the future, Wilson said that she would never get over the attack. “It will stay with me for the rest of my life,” she said. "It's not just the loss of a friend. It’s my loss of innocence too.”

Wilson described her life after the attack as “every moment is a miracle, every moment is in agony.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger