US officials to attend Asher Palmer murder trial

Ofer Military Court tries Wa’al al-Arjeh and Ali Saadeh with intentional killing of father and infant son on Route 60.

Funeral of Kiryat Arba car accident victims 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Funeral of Kiryat Arba car accident victims 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Representatives from the US Department of Justice and State Department are expected to attend a hearing in the Ofer Military Court on Sunday in the ongoing trial of two Palestinian men charged with deliberately killing an American citizen and his son last year.
Asher Palmer, 24, and his infant son Yonatan were killed when their car overturned as they drove on Route 60 near Kiryat Arba. The father and son were driving to meet Asher’s pregnant wife in Jerusalem.
A police investigation revealed that the father and son were murdered as the result of rock-throwing and not a car accident as the IDF initially suspected.
Two Palestinian men – Wa’al al- Arjeh and Ali Saadeh, both from Halhoul near Hebron – were charged in the Ofer Military Court with intentionally causing the deaths of Asher and Yonatan, equivalent to a murder charge under civilian law. The offense is punishable by life in prison.
A representative of the Palmer family said monitors from the US State Department were present at the last hearing in the case on April 18, after which the US Department of Justice told the Palmers it would also monitor the trial.
Attorney Adrian Agassi, a former military court judge who is representing the Palmer family, told The Jerusalem Post that the US does not usually monitor overseas trials.
Public interest around the trial and the fact that the military court stopped the US consul from attending one of the early hearings, perhaps prompted the US authorities to attend the Palmer trial, he suggested.
The charges against Arjeh and Saadeh include deliberately stoning cars in order to cause death.
Significantly, the prosecution alleges that the two men developed a novel method to use stones as lethal missiles by hurling them from a fastmoving car.
The prosecution alleges that Arjeh and Saadeh were both in a fast-moving car when one of them threw a stone at the car Asher was driving, deliberately intending to cause the deaths of the car’s occupants.
“Rocks thrown from a moving car have a far greater velocity than if they were thrown by someone standing at the side of the road,” Agassi noted.
The indictment against Arjeh and Saadeh alleges that the two men used the stone-throwing method in other attacks.
Arjeh is charged with 30 offenses, including another attempted murder in which he allegedly threw rocks at a bus in order to cause the deaths of passengers.
Saadeh was also indicted on charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and illegal military training. The indictment lists a total of 23 charges against him, all related to attacks and security offenses in the area, and including an attempt to fire an M-16 rifle at a passenger bus on Route 60.
The military court will set a legal precedent if it finds the two Palestinians guilty of deliberately causing the deaths of Asher and Yonatan, Agassi said, because it will be the first time stone-throwing was used to deliberately kill someone.
Four other Palestinian men are standing trial alongside Arjeh and Saadeh on charges of being co-conspirators in the attack and carrying out similar rock-throwing attacks on Road 60.
All six men are from the same village and are allegedly part of a gang that used the rock throwing from a fast-moving car method to carry out terror attacks, according to Agassi.
Agassi added that because of the significance of the case, the Palmer family is determined to see that the prosecution continue to push to prove that Arjeh and Saadeh intentionally caused Asher’s and Yonatan’s deaths, which will see both defendants sentenced to life in prison.
“We don’t want the prosecution to give in and agree to a plea bargain with 20-year sentences instead of life,” he said.
So far, the court has not heard the defense arguments but lawyers for the two Palestinian men are expected to argue that they did not intend to kill Asher and Yonatan when they threw the stone.
Another Palestinian man, Shehada Awad Shehada Shatat was convicted in March of stealing Asher’s gun after the deadly attack and sentenced to 10 months in prison – which the Palmer family slammed as far too lenient.
Shatat was apparently not connected to the stone throwers but was driving on Road 60 when he saw Asher’s car overturn and crash. He stole Asher’s gun, but did not call for an ambulance or attempt to help Asher and Yonatan.
Michael Palmer, Asher’s father, said after Shatat’s sentencing that the military advocate-general had not told him that the hearing was to take place, and so he could not attend and speak to the court before the sentencing.
In a precedent-setting development, the prosecution appealed the move and received permission for Michael Palmer to present a victim’s affidavit to the court. The appeal hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in the Ofer Military Court of Appeals.