Palestinian Policeman Cleared of Murder in Ramallah Lynching After 16 Years in Prison

In retrial, Israeli military court reduced the charges against Hatam Faiz Khalil Magari to assault and failure to prevent a crime - which carry a maximum 11 year sentence.

Image from the lynching of Israeli reservists Nurzhitz and Avrahami in Ramallah, October, 2000.
Image from the lynching of Israeli reservists Nurzhitz and Avrahami in Ramallah, October, 2000. AFP

A Palestinian police officer who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the notorious killing of two Israeli soldiers in 2000 was released on Wednesday, after an Israeli military court vacated his murder conviction in a retrial.

The charges against Hatam Faiz Khalil Magari were reduced in the retrial, from murder to assault of a soldier, and failure to prevent a crime. In a plea bargain, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison – time served, in effect, since he had already served 16 years in prison.

"The defendant had a small part in the incident" in Ramallah, the judges wrote in their verdict.

Magari was arrested in December 2000, two months after Israeli reservists Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami were brutally killed and their bodies savaged by an angry mob, after they drove into the Palestinian West Bank city by mistake.

In 2001, Magari was charged with failure to prevent a crime, later amended to a charge of deliberately causing death, equivalent to murder. In 2004 he was convicted of the more serious offense as well as additional, lesser charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In his request for a retrial, submitted in 2015, Magari claimed, among other arguments, that three individuals who were arrested and questioned after he was convicted made statements that could change his conviction. He also claimed that information provided by a fourth person, who was questioned before Magari's own conviction – information that was not introduced during Magari's trial – might have changed the verdict.

In their new ruling, the three-judge panel acknowledged the rarity of the military appeals court's granting of a retrial. They noted Magari's involvement in "an event that was burned into the consciousness of Israelis more than almost any other," pointed out that he was among the Palestinian police officers who arrested the Israeli soldiers and brought them to the Palestinian police station in Ramallah and that "he even beat them on the way to the station but was not among those who assaulted the soldiers inside the station and caused their deaths."