The army will apparently seek the death penalty for the murderers of five members of the Fogel family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar in March. This would be the first time it has sought a sentence of death since the mid-1990s.
Such a request would most likely be purely symbolic, since the only case in which a death penalty was ever actually carried out in Israel was that of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962. Death sentences were occasionally handed down against terrorists in the early years of the state, but were always commuted.
Yet even to seek such a penalty would be a departure from longstanding army policy: Since the mid-1990s, not even the most heinous terrorist acts have resulted in a request for capital punishment.
Military prosecutors are expected to demand the death penalty this time due to the extreme nature of the case: Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their children, ranging in age from three months to 11 years, were killed in their beds shortly after the family finished their Shabbat dinner.
The Shin Bet security service has wrapped up its investigation into the murders and indictments are expected to be filed shortly against the two suspects, Hakim and Amjad Awad of the village of Awarta, near Itamar. Both confessed to the killings under interrogation. On Tuesday, a military court ordered them held in detention for another 10 days.
Though the death penalty has never been used against terrorists, Israel Defense Forces regulations in the West Bank allow its imposition subject to various conditions: Incriminating evidence must be presented at the trial even if the defendants have confessed; the judges trying the case must hold the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher; and the sentence must get the judges' unanimous consent.
A death sentence is automatically reviewed by a five-judge appellate panel even if the defendant does not seek to appeal. If the appellate court upholds it, the military commander in the territories must then review the sentence as well and consider commuting it.
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