Court Finds Two Guilty in Abu Khdeir Murder; Conviction of Main Suspect Suspended

Yosef Haim Ben-David, the main defendant, submits last-minute psychiatric evaluation that claims he was not responsible for his actions.

Ben-David, the main defendant in the Khdeir case, in August 2014.Emil Salman

The Jerusalem District Court convicted two Israeli Jews in the murder of Palestinian youth Muhammad Abu Khdeir in July 2014. The conviction of the main suspect, Yosef Haim Ben-David, was suspended due to a last-minute psychiatric evaluation that claimed he was not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder.

However, the court said that there is enough evidence to convict Ben-David. The judges ordered the psychiatric evaluation, which was written in English by an Israeli psychiatrist, to be translated to Hebrew on Monday.

The judges wrote about Ben-David that he "confessed in his interrogations to all the acts attributed to him in the indictment, including kidnaping and murder." They noted that he confessed both in the police and pre-trial preparations to making plans to kidnap and murder an Arab.

"Everything was approved in court and proved as true statements, supported by testimony from the other two defendants as well as by forensic evidence," the judges wrote. "Thus, it should be ruled that Defendant Number 1 committed the offenses attributed to him in the indictment. Contrary to proper behavior, an evaluation was prepared for Defendant Number 1 regarding his psychological state just days before the verdict was handed down. Despite this, we are refraining, at this stage, from convicting Defendant Number 1, and this matter will be debated further."

Suha and Hussein Abu Khdeir, center, parents of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, hold posters with his portrait after the reading of the verdict in his killing, at the Jerusalem District Court, Nov. 30, 2015.AFP

In addition to murder, the defendants were also convicted of kidnapping with intention to murder, attempted kidnaping (Ben-David and one of the minors because of their attempt to kidnap a Palestinian child a day before the murder), battery causing real harm and attempted arson.

"We pretend to see ourselves as a society with values that are different from those of our enemies, but these defendants showed us a sight from which emanates a disturbing picture," said Uri Korb, the prosecutor. "We have reached a point in which the words and ended and something dramatic has befallen Israel."

Hossein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed's father, said after the reading of the verdict that Ben-David was trying to mislead the court. "It's all a lie. I'm afraid that the court will eventually get them off the hook," he said. "I want [to see] justice in the court. Where's justice? The judges mustn't accept this."

Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted in the early hours of July 2, 2014 from the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, close to his home. He was driven to the Jerusalem Forest, where he was beaten and burned alive by his kidnappers. The state has officially recognized him as a victim of terror.

Ben-David's attorney submitted a psychiatric evaluation on Thursday that states he was not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder. The prosecution claimed during the deliberations that Ben-David was responsible for his actions and fit to stand trial. They presented the court evidence, including videos, showing Ben-David alert and fully aware of what was happening.

Ben-David refused to defend himself throughout the trial and his attorney argued that he wasn't responsible for his actions. However, no psychiatric evaluation to that effect was submitted to the court until Thursday. The prosecution asked the court to reject the evaluation and issue a verdict on Sunday.

Three Israeli Jews were standing trial for the murder – Ben-David, 31, and two minors who haven't been named. Both minors blamed Ben-David for planning the murder of Abu Khdeir and exerting heavy pressure on them to participate.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, selfie, date unknown, published July 7, 2014.

The three, who were apprehended several days after the death of Abu Khdeir, confessed to the crime and reenacted it.

The accused told the court during the course of the trial that the murder of Abu Khdeir was in revenge for the abduction and murder of three young Israelis in Gush Etzion shortly before they abducted Abu Khdeir.

The two minors attempted to minimize their roles in the murder and place most of the blame on Ben-David. The accused Ben-David of giving them pills and energy drinks in the hours before the murder.

Defendant A, one of the minors, claimed that he was not involved in the actual murder and had remained in the car while it took place.

"He has repeatedly said that Ben-David did it alone," according to his attorney. "He acknowledges that they abducted [Abu Khdeir] but he had no idea it would end in murder."

The prosecution, however, maintained that both minors had committed the deeds of their own volition, pointing to statements they made during questioning.

"The picture arising from the evidence is that Defendant B. was excited by the revenge action and insisted that he and his co-defendants carry it out as planned," he said.

Abu Khdeir's parents attended every court session and expressed regular dissatisfaction with the lengthy delays in the legal process.

"Why haven't they demolished the homes of these three murderers?" Hussein Abu Khdeir, the youth's father, asked at the last court session. "If they were Arabs, their homes would have been demolished immediately. Because they burned my son alive, people today are stabbing."