The Haifa District Court on Thursday sentenced seven Israeli Arabs for between two years in prison to only a suspended sentence following their July conviction in the killing of Eden Natan Zada, on a number of charges, including attempted manslaughter.
Zada was the Jewish terrorist who murdered four Israeli Arabs and wounded 17 people on a bus on August 4, 2005.
The sentences, less than what the prosecution had sought, reflected both the conviction of attempted manslaughter for four of the defendants, but also the court’s earlier acquittal of the defendants – who are residents of Shfaram – of attempted murder.
Leading up to and after the sentencing decision, hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the courthouse flanked by an equally large police presence.
Media reports indicated that nine rioters were arrested.
MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) said that the verdict “is a hostile message to the Arab citizens of Israel.”
“It means that Arabs have no rights to self-defense,” he said and added that “their blood doesn’t count.”
Naaman Bahus, Basal Kadri and Jamil Sfori were each sentenced to two years on combined convictions for attempted manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.
Basal Hativ was sentenced to 20 months for attempted manslaughter but with no additional charges.
Fadi Nasrallah was sentenced to 18 months for damaging the bus, attacking police and other crimes. Arka’an Korbag was sentenced to 11 months for damaging the bus, attacking police and other crimes.
Monir Zakoot was given only a suspended sentence of 8 months for attacking police.
The prosecution had asked for harsher sentences, including as high as nine years, and the defendants had asked for no prison time, with only a sentence of community service.
Three of the defendants are Muslim, three are Druse and one is Christian. None of them were accused of murder in the indictment, which was filed on June 7, 2009.
Explaining its decision, which neither satisfied the prosecution nor the defendants and their supporters, the court made several points.
The court started by noting that it had little guidance for framing the appropriate punishment for attempted manslaughter, which it said was a rare crime to convict defendants on.
It said that the range of sentences for attempted manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm were between seven years to a short prison sentence.
In discussing which point on the spectrum was correct, on the one hand, the court noted that the defendants’ crime was a crime of passion in that they were uniquely provoked by Zada’s massacre.
On the other hand, the follow- up to Zada’s massacre, including when he was killed, was spread over two hours, making it impossible to say that the defendants’ violent actions were entirely spontaneous throughout.
Next, the court noted that the passing of four years until the defendants were indicted and eight years from the incident argued for a more lenient sentence, both as a general principle and specifically because of the extended suffering of the defendants having their fate in limbo for so long.
The court also admonished the defendants for showing no remorse for their actions.
In that light and to enforce the overall commitment to rule of law and restraining persons from taking the law into their own hands, the court felt it could not be as lenient as the defendants requested.
The court concluded that absent of the highly provocative circumstances and substantial passing of time since the event, the punishments would have been far more severe.
In July, 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.
Despite pleas of self-defense and arguing that Jews in similar circumstances had been found entirely innocent or pardoned, four of the defendants were found guilty of attempted manslaughter and two were convicted of intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
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 Korbag and 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, Kadri, Hativ and 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.
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.
But Zahalka demanded that an inquiry committee be established to investigate who “collaborated with Zada.”
“Who gave him the religious permission? A religious man like him needs religious permission. He will not act alone,” claimed Zahalka in reference to Zada.
The security forces should have prevented this. His mother had contacted the police, explaining that he was unstable, Zahalka said.
If the situation were reversed, he said, “Jews would receive honors.”
The verdict will be appealed to the Supreme Court and the struggle will continue, he said. “We do not accept the unjust decision of the court.”