Chief Suspect in Abu Khdeir Murder: We Regretted the Killing Afterward

Yosef Haim Ben-David says initial plan was to torch an Arab shop, but soon escalated to kidnapping and killing.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Mourners carry the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on Friday.
Mourners carry the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on Friday.Credit: AP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The transcript of the interrogation of Yosef Haim Ben-David, the main suspect in the July murder of Arab teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, sheds new light on the incident that continues to stir tensions in Jerusalem. Questioned by the Shin Bet security service and the central unit of the Jerusalem Police, Ben-David claimed that murder was not the only possible result that night.

Ben-David says he and his two alleged accomplices – both minors – intended “to harass an Arab or vandalize property or beat up somebody, nothing specific.” He says they prepared gasoline-filled bottles, because “we were hot and angry, and decided we’d burn something of the Arabs.”

“We went to Armon Hanatziv to try to find an Arab shop to burn, and then we talked and decided to take it up a notch,” he told investigators. “We said, ‘They took three of ours, let’s take one of theirs,’ and we decided to pick someone up, to kidnap him, beat him up and throw him out.”

The transcript was revealed by Channel 2 News and the Ynet website.

As the three suspects spent hours roaming East Jerusalem neighborhoods in search of a victim, they also stopped to eat and drink. One Arab shopkeeper kindly reminded them to take their change, which almost made them change their minds about their plan.

However, when they spotted Abu Khdeir, 16, sitting on some steps on the main road in Shoafat, Ben-David decided he was to be the one. “I told them they could overpower him, to get out quickly. I heard them ask him, ‘Which way is it to Tel Aviv?’ He didn’t really answer and didn’t speak Hebrew. At that moment, I saw N. slap him and M. clamp his mouth shut so he wouldn’t scream. They forced him into the car – he tried to act up, he started to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ and to curse. I immediately locked all the car doors … Then M. started choking him and I yelled: ‘Finish him off!’ He started to gurgle. At some point he stopped struggling.”

Despite the strangulation in the car, the postmortem revealed that Abu Khdeir was still alive when they reached Jerusalem Forest. Once there, Ben-David says he began striking the unconscious victim. First he hit him on the head repeatedly with a crowbar. With each blow, he shouted the names of terror victims: “This is for the Fogel family, and this is for Shalhevet Pass.”

After Abu Khdeir was dragged from the car, Ben-David started kicking him, calling, “This is for Eyal and this is for Naftali and this is for Gilad,” the names of the three murdered Israeli teens found in the West Bank. Then Ben-David and one of the two minors poured gasoline on him and Ben-David set him on fire.

Next, the three drove to Sachar Park, where they destroyed evidence by burning their clothing. Then they drove to the home of a customer to deliver a pair of glasses from Ben-David’s store. Ben-David claims that at this stage they felt remorse for their actions. “I was in shock … We’re Jews, we have a heart. Afterward we talked about it and … each one poured his heart out and we regretted doing it. I told them … this is not for us. We erred, we’re compassionate Jews, we’re human beings. Then we got depressed.”

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