Rejecting an 11th-hour insanity plea filed in December, the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday convicted Yosef Haim Ben-David of being the ringleader in the July 2, 2014 murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
Ruling on Ben-David’s mental state, the court wrote that, “At the time of the perpetrating of the crime, the accused was not psychotic, understood his actions well, was culpable for his actions, in control of them, had no disturbance in judging reality, and had the ability to prevent commission of the crimes.”
In February, the court sentenced two minors who had already been convicted of the murder – one to life in prison, and the other to 21 years in prison.
Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old from Shuafat in east Jerusalem, was abducted while waiting to enter a mosque and brutally murdered by being tortured and burned alive.
News of the slaying led to rioting in east Jerusalem and the rest of the country.
Ben-David and the two Jewish minors burned Abu Khdeir to death as a nationalist revenge murder following the murder of Jewish teenagers Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach in June 2014.
Responding to the decision, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) said at a press conference immediately after the verdict that the court “had reached the correct decision.”
But at the same time, he attacked the absence of a process to demolish Ben-David’s house.
The Jerusalem Post asked Tibi if a formal request for demolition had been filed, as state prosecution officials have said in the past would need to be done.
He responded, “Has anyone in the past proposed to destroy a Palestinian house from a lawyer? It was an initiative from the prime minister, by the internal security minister and by the authorities.
I think that they know this option.”
Responding to the decision, Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein, said, “We knew from the start he [Ben-David] was not crazy. He lied to the court and to us. He planned. He had a store… He tried to kidnap another Palestinian... He was intelligent.
We knew he was not crazy.”
He added Israeli courts discriminate against Arabs, and deal with them with a double standard.
The father said that this is why the court held so many hearings before convicting Ben-David. He claimed that Palestinian suspects are often convicted quickly, and their homes are destroyed.
The father said that his family was in pain each time they saw the man who was convicted for killing their son. The verdict does not offer any comfort to the family “because it’s not comparable to the murder itself,” he added.
The family’s lawyer, Muhanad Jbarah, hailed the verdict as a step in the right direction “although it came too late.”
A defense lawyer for Ben-David said, “Unfortunately, the court did not accept our arguments. We will make additional arguments regarding his emotional state to get leniency for sentencing and we will consider an appeal.”
The state prosecution responded to the verdict stating that Ben-David “was convicted in the murder of an innocent teenager whose life was taken from him suddenly with extreme brutality, and for attempting to kidnap another boy, an eight-year-old boy! The crimes were committed by the accused based on ideological and nationalistic motivations of revenge as he dragged along with him family members who were minors,” in committing the murder.
In explaining its finding that Ben-David was sane, the court rejected the defense’s opinion of Dr. Jonathan Sirkin, who had said that Ben-David was psychotic.
Ben-David was in therapy prior to the murder, and was diagnosed as obsessive but never psychotic.
Sirkin opined that Ben-David’s therapist had misdiagnosed him.
The court rejected Sirkin’s opinion, saying that both minor defendants testified that Ben-David had been very logical and in control while orchestrating the murder, and that he had been in control and detailed when reconstructing the murder with law enforcement investigators.
It added that examinations of him both before and after the murder by several professionals found him to be sane, and not suffering from hallucinations. At most, they said, he feared being caught and punished for murder.
Following the indictment of the three, the Defense Ministry recognized Abu Khdeir as a victim of hostile action, granting his family the same compensation rights as the victims of Arab terrorism, such as victims of suicide bombings. That determination is pending a decision by the National Insurance Institute.
Throughout his year-long trial, Ben-David claimed insanity but never filed a psychiatric report which could give his insanity plea a legal basis.
Coming into a December date for hearing the verdict, there was little doubt that Ben-David would be convicted by Judges Jacob Zavan, Rivkah Friedman-Feldman and Rafi Carmel. But right before the verdict, Ben-David’s lawyer, Asher Ohayon, shocked the courtroom, having quietly (without notice to the public) produced to the court days before an insanity plea psychiatric opinion just in time for the verdict.
Although not in accord with legal procedure, since Ben-David had not yet been convicted, the court decided it would review the opinion.
Since December, the legal fight over Ben-David’s insanity plea dragged out in several closed door hearings but ultimately proved to be of no avail for the defendant.
The indictment included charges against Ben-David and one of the minors for attempting to kidnap seven- and-a-half year-old Musa Zalum of Beit Hanina, and striking him and his mother with whom he was walking – while she was pushing another one of her children in a stroller.
Ben-David drove the car, while the minors got out to attack the boy. They wore non-haredi clothes to try to mask their identities during their attempts to kidnap Arabs.
There were separate charges for multiple attempts by the same two to burn Arab cars in Sur Bahir.
In the case of Abu Khdeir, the indictment alleged that Ben-David drove the car, while both minors attacked and threw the victim into the car.
Abu Khdeir tried to call his uncle, attempted to escape and even kicked one of the defendants in the face before they overpowered him.
The defendants partially strangled Abu Khdeir and repeatedly struck him on the head, as Ben-David called out the names of murdered Jews, such as Shalhevet Pas, the Fogel family, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel.
Next, Ben-David told the minors to burn his body to erase evidence. They doused him with gasoline and burned him alive.
The three defendants had confessed that the murder had been an act of revenge following the murder of the three teenagers in June.
Police found the teenager’s badly burned remains at 5:20 a.m., approximately one hour after he was reported kidnapped.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.