The troubled personality of Yona Avrushmi

Background: How a court-appointed psychologist influenced the fate of a convicted killer.

peace now protest 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
peace now protest 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
February 10, 1983, started off grimly, and only got worse as the day wore on.
Three days earlier, the Kahan State Commission of Inquiry into the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut published its report. It concluded that Israel – whose troops were in Lebanon at the time – was indirectly responsible, and called for the dismissal of Ariel Sharon as defense minister, among other things.
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The dispute between the right- and left-wing camps – which had been reignited after the Six Day War – deteriorated sharply after the First Lebanon War. The more radical elements opposed the war altogether; the more moderate ones were shocked by the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the camps.
In September, at least 200,000 protesters gathered in the square in front of Tel Aviv City Hall (later renamed Kikar Rabin) to demand an independent inquiry into the events leading to the massacre.
The Left’s activism was anathema to the Right – including many Sephardic voters living in the capital’s distressed neighborhoods, who were strong supporters of prime minister Menachem Begin.
Tensions were already high when the Peace Now movement decided to hold a protest march from downtown Jerusalem to an empty patch of land opposite the Prime Minister’s Office, where the cabinet was meeting to consider the Kahan Committee recommendations.
The march along Rehov Bezalel towards the Prime Minister's Office was rife with tension. Police cordoned off the sidewalks, where angry opponents gathered to jeer and insult the marchers.
There were minor incidents along the way, but the protesters reached their destination safely, and listened to the speeches.
After the rally ended, while the protesters were dispersing, an explosion – which turned out to be caused by a hand grenade – ripped through the grounds, killing Peace Now activist Emil Grunzweig and wounding 10 others, including future Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg.
The incident caused shock throughout the country, and the schism between Right and Left had reached an unprecedentedly dangerous level.
The perpetrator of the attack, Yona Avrushmi, turned out to be a petty criminal who had spent time in prison after being convicted of a litany of violent crimes – including attacking a policeman, committing an indecent act against a child, assault and using threats to extort.
The police failed to find other suspects who might have helped or incited Avrushmi to throw the grenade – although skeptics continue to believe that more sophisticated political elements had put him up to it.
He was convicted of murder and given a mandatory life sentence, which was commuted to 27 years in prison by president Ezer Weizman in 1995.
In 2002, after completing two-thirds of his sentence, Avrushmi asked the Parole Board for an early release.
The board agreed, but changed its mind after being instructed by the Supreme Court to reconsider the matter, and assess whether he still posed a danger to society.
Once again, the Parole Board agreed to Avrushmi’s early release request, and the district court upheld the board’s ruling.
However, the court accepted the state’s appeal and ordered the board to rethink its decision on the basis of an opinion submitted by a psychologist, who wrote an evaluation of Avrushmi.
“There is a possibility that [Avrushmi] has severe personality problems, and belongs to those who are hostile to authority, and can hold extreme political or religious views,” the psychologist concluded.
“Their conduct is unstable and unpredictable and they have severe problems controlling their urges. It does not appear that they learn from their mistakes and when they commit crimes, they tend to be cruel and violent ones. Their actions often appear to be illogical and planned negligently.”
However, the psychologist added that there were two contradictory trends in Avrushmi’s behavior: One of them indicated that Avrushmi was unpredictable; the second that his conduct has become more moderate over the years.
He wrote that the latter possibility seemed more likely.
However, in a second opinion submitted in 2005, the psychologist wrote that Avrushmi’s basic personality was problematic and criminal, and if released too early, he might kill or violently attack again.
All of Avrushmi’s parole requests were turned down, and he was released on Tuesday after completing his entire prison term.