A Haifa court on Monday acquitted seven Israeli Arabs of attempted murder in the lynching of Jewish terrorist Eden Natan-Zada, but convicted four of them of attempted homicide and two more of aggravated assault.
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The court on Monday convicted all seven defendants of aggravated assault of police officers, obstruction of justice, and property damage due to rioting.
"At the very least, their intent was established," the judges said. "The defendants' behavior before entering the bus shows intent to achieve their goal. They tried to kill Zada." They said it was unclear if Zada was already dead or alive, and added, "Before the incident, there was a great provocation. The provocation was both objective and subjective," and therefore the defendants could not be convicted of attempted murder but rather of attempted homicide.
Natan-Zada, a deserter from the IDF, was killed in a lynching shortly after he perpetrated an attack on a bus in Shfaram in August 2005, killing four. The act was believed to be in protest against Israel’s disengagement from Gaza taking place at the time.
Some 300 residents of the northern Israeli city of Shfaram protested outside Haifa's District Court on Monday in support of the defendants. The city of Shfaram announced a general strike over the indictments against the seven. Protestors warned of roadblocks if convicted.
Israeli Arab leaders who came to the demonstration said the conviction would be a blow to their community.
"Anything short of the complete acquittal of the defendants would constitute the justice system saying the blood of an Arab is worthless and the blood of a Jew, even when he is a terrorist, is holy," said MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash). "That is an equation we cannot live with."
Natan-Zada opened fire on passengers en route to Shfaram from Haifa using his army-issued rifle. He killed the bus driver, Michel Bahus, and three passengers, Nader Hayek and two sisters, Hazar Turki and Dina Turki, and wounded 20 others.
After the incident, photographs were published showing Natan-Zada was alive after he had been disarmed. The publication of these photographs led to a police investigation that ended with the arrest of 12 residents of Shfaram. Seven of them were charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault of police officers, obstruction of justice, and property damage due to rioting. The other five confessed as part of a plea bargain to interfering with and assaulting a police officer and were sentenced to community service. The seven defendants were Naaman Bahus, 37; Arkan Kurbaj, 27; Munir Zakut, 27; Basel Kader, 35; Basel Khatib, 29; Fadi Nasrallah, 36 and Jamil Sfouri, 49.
“This is a political trial,” one resident told Haaretz. “It’s obvious to us that the seven are going to be convicted. The goal of the trial is to placate the right wing. The prosecutor couldn’t back down from the situation it had gotten itself into. When they are convicted, roads in the north will be blocked.”
Last week, a protest tent was set up in Shfaram, and hundreds of residents have gathered there every evening to show solidarity with the defendants. Protesters also claim the state did not do enough to find those they say dispatched Natan-Zada to perpetrate the attack. The seven defendants deny the charges against them and their defense attorneys say there was no reason to try them.
Attorney Maher Talhami said that no investigation had been opened in similar cases where civilians or police officers acted against suspected attackers. In some cases, he said, police officers and civilians even received citations from the defense establishment.
Talhami also said it would be difficult to prove the defendants’ involvement in the crimes they are accused of. During the incident, he said, thousands of people congregated around the bus. The prosecution relied mainly on the testimony of police officers and photographs from the scene, claiming that Natan-Zada had been restrained and disarmed when he was beaten to death.