Shin Bet arrests Erez Levanon killers

Two 18 year old Palestinians confess murder was racially motivated.

erez levanon 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
erez levanon 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Two Palestinian teenagers confessed on Monday that they stabbed Erez Levanon, 42, to death while he prayed in a forest outside his home settlement of Bat Ayin late Sunday afternoon, security sources said. The two suspects were arrested by the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) earlier in the day. Levanon, a father of three, was a popular songwriter and singer known throughout his community for his willingness to pick up his guitar for a good cause. He played music for patients in Jerusalem-area hospitals and would entertain for free at bar mitzvas and weddings of those who lacked money, his friend Levin Goldschmidt said. Last week, when Goldschmidt was talking with his first-grade class about the month of Adar and the upcoming holiday of Purim, it had been natural to ask Levanon to come and play some songs, he said. Goldschmidt, who stayed with Levanon's body from the time it was found in a ravine at 10 p.m. on Sunday night and until his burial on Monday afternoon, said he still had a hard time believing his long-time friend was gone. "His death was a great loss," Goldschmidt told The Jerusalem Post after Levanon's funeral in the Gush Etzion Cemetery outside Kfar Etzion on Monday afternoon. Describing his friend, Goldschmidt said: "He didn't wait for happiness to find him, he was invested in creating it for himself and others around him." Huddled in a green overcoat, Goldschmidt stood in Levanon's study in his hilltop home. Levanon's seven-year-old son stuck his head into the study, and said, "This is my father's room." His twin sister played outside amid the mourners. Levanon's now silent guitar hung on the wall in the study. Underneath it was a box of a CD, A Light in the Heart, which Levanon had released with 14 original songs about happiness, peace and God. A number of them were based on the teachings of the 18th century Hassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, of whom Levanon was a follower. In pursuit of the Bratslav tradition of personal prayer, Goldschmidt said that Levanon along with others in the community would often go into the forest where he was slain to pray. It is peaceful and serene there, said Goldschmidt. But that tranquility was broken on Sunday when suspects Mudar Abu Dia and Mussa Ah'lil, both 18, left their village of Safa near Beit Omar, carrying knives. They were arrested hours after Levanon's body was found between Beit Omar and Bat Ayin. Levanon's burned car was also discovered on Monday in Beit Omar. During their interrogation, the two teens confessed to the murder and said it was a nationalistically-motivated act. Yaki Morag, the head of security for the small town, said that the area where Levanon was killed was fraught with dangers. "This is a grove where we usually go to meditate. It turns out that the Arabs followed him, saw him, and took advantage of the opportunity," he told Army Radio. "I would always remind him to go out armed, and I don't know if that would have helped." Goldschmidt said that he and others had complained about lack of security in the area. Earlier in the day, standing in the pouring rain in the cemetery, Goldschmidt told the hundreds of mourners who gathered in the cold that his friend was killed because he was a Jew. "The fact that he was Jewish made it easier for the Arabs to kill him," Goldschmidt added. Singing a tune that Levanon had composed, mourners held his shroud-wrapped body under a canopy of umbrellas and carried it to the grave. As the water from brown mud puddles dripped down into the grave, they lowered his body and covered it with earth. Then Levanon's 11-year-old son said the Kaddish, the traditional prayer for the dead, his thin voice wafting through the foggy air over the microphone system which had been set up. Goldschmidt said he had first met Levanon when they studied together in a yeshiva in Samaria some 15 years ago, just about the time that Levanon married his wife Dafna. Even at the start, Levanon struck Goldschmidt as someone who was both grounded and spiritual. He could not say enough about the ways he worked to help people. In past summers Levanon traveled to India to work with post-army secular Israelis and to help them turn to Judaism to satisfy their spiritual yearnings, said Goldschmidt. He and his wife had the kind of home that was always open to guests, said Levanon. He was an integral part of their Bratslav community in Bat Ayin, said Goldschmidt, who had last seen Levanon in synagogue on Saturday night. "We prayed and then said good-bye," he said. Rebecca Anna Stoil and AP contributed to this report.