Court Acquits Three Jewish Youths Indicted for Vandalizing Palestinian Farmland

Two of five yeshiva students convicted after confessing to amended charges ■ Prosecutors undecided on whether to appeal the acquittals

File photo: Palestinian farm land in Wadi Fukhnin in Gush Etzion, West Bank, January 7, 2017.
Amira Hass

A court acquitted three Jewish youths charged with vandalizing Palestinian farmland in a racially motivated act in the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.

The three were among five right-wing activists indicted for the crimes. Judge Shimon Leybo of the Jerusalem Juvenile Court convicted the other two of the crimes two weeks ago, after they confessed.

Prosecutors said they have not yet decided on whether to appeal the acquittals.

The original indictment charged the defendants with vandalizing property with racist motives.

According to the indictment, the minors, who were students at the Nahliel Yeshiva, set out for a hike in the area of Wadi Fukhin near Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion in 2016. They passed through agricultural plots and damaged fields owned by Palestinians.

The students uprooted 50 pepper plants, 85 cucumber plants, 30 squash plants and others. They cut irrigation lines and damaged other agricultural equipment, including hothouses, tools, fertilizer sacks and more. They were also charged with spray painting graffiti on the walls of a hothouse that read “Death to Arabs” and other racist slogans. In total, they caused about 17,000 shekels ($4,700) in damage.

All five were tried as juveniles because they were minors at the time, and therefore their names cannot be published.

The first two confessed to amended charges and were convicted of causing intentional damage. In a rather unusual move, the court acquitted the other three – who admitted to being at the scene as part of the hike organized by their school, but denied being involved in the crimes.

The judge wrote in his decision that while there was no doubt that the three were present at the time of the crimes, the prosecution could not prove that they had participated in the vandalism and they should be acquitted because there was reasonable doubt about their guilt.

One of the defendant’s lawyers said that while any vandalism should be decried, the police and prosecutors “crossed all the red lines” to achieve a conviction and the acquittal should serve as a “warning to the law enforcement authorities that not all means are kosher.”

His client, who was 12 at the time of the incident, had no criminal involvement and all the objective evidence showed that he was not involved, the lawyer said.

A lawyer for a different defendant said: “The youths may have been acquitted after this two-year long trial, but my client’s life was put on hold during that period. He was not drafted when he reached the age of 18 because he was facing an indictment for a crime with racial motives. No acquittal can repair the damage he suffered in the process.”