Palestinian Gunman Served 2 Years in Israeli Prison for Planning Suicide Attack

After being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, Diaa Hamarsheh made a living in Israel without a work permit

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Gilboa Prison, where Diaa Hamarsheh served part of his sentence for conspiracy to commit murder, 2021.
Gilboa Prison, where Diaa Hamarsheh served part of his sentence, 2021.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

The terrorist who murdered four civilians and a police officer in Bnei Brak before being shot to death, had served a prison sentence in Israel after offering to carry out a suicide attack for Islamic Jihad.

In his sentencing hearings, Diaa Hamarsheh, expressed hope that the military tribunal would accept the plea bargain he signed with the prosecution, to be released from prison and lead a "normal life", he said.

He served two and a half years in prison, and since then made a living in part by working without a permit in Israel.

On Wednesday his father told Haaretz that the attack “came like a thunderbolt in a clear sky." He claims he didn't suspect or detect anything and that him and his son were working together in the tobacco trade. He wasn’t connected to any political or militant activity, his father said. 

Some years ago Hamarsheh was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and of throwing rocks at vehicles. He was given a plea bargain that shortened his sentence, which he served in the Fatah cell blocks of Gilboa and Ketziot prisons. In early 2011, at age 16, he approached about 100 different people requesting help in executing a suicide attack, and also tried to locate people to help him obtain weapons.

He contacted Hamas as well as a known operative of the Islamic Jihad's military wing via Facebook, informing them of his intentions.

Hamarsheh and the Islamic Jihad operative met a few weeks later in the village of Ya’abad, where Hamarsheh lived. Hamarsheh gave him 400 shekels ($100-plus), and the operative tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hamarsheh to become a “mujahid” – a fighter – according to the indictment, so “he could cause the death of more Jews.”

When the two met again, the operative told Hamarsheh that he must learn a few words in Hebrew, and that he would receive a military uniform which he must wear when carrying out the attack. He was told that he would receive details about the attack, which was to take place on a bus or at a military base.

Hamarsheh was also told that a family acting on behalf of the Islamic State would help his own family obtain replacement housing, as their own house would be demolished by Israel following the attack.

A few days later Hamarsheh gave the Islamic Jihad operative 900 shekels to cover the costs of transportation and the explosive vests.

The operative informed Hamarsheh that he intended to enter Israel to get the explosive vest, and that the attack was scheduled for the following week – then cut off contact.

Later on Hamarsheh was asked to deliver another 700 shekels to the organization to purchase an explosive vest, and was told the first attempt had been intercepted by the Palestinian Authority.

In April 2013 Hamarsheh met with an Islamic Jihad operative to discuss the planned attack, and later was asked to deliver another 1,000 shekels. Eventually, both Hamarsheh and the operative were arrested, and the attack never materialized.

Under the plea bargain, Hamarsheh’s punishment was lessened significantly – the maximum penalty for attempted conspiracy is 14 years in prison, and for throwing rocks – 10 years.

The prosecution representative said at the sentencing that “without making light of the defendant’s actions, this is a conspiracy to commit actions that could not have been carried out due to the confederate’s motive, who acted to deceive the defendant and extract money from him.”

She said that “no specific plan was made to carry out the suicide attack, no target was chosen, the funds delivered were not eventually transferred in practice to advance the plan, and at the end of the day, no weapon was obtained. The defendant was a minor of 16 at the time of the crime, without a criminal record, who chose to save the court valuable time” by agreeing to a plea bargain.

Hamarsheh’s father also testified on his behalf claiming his son was fooled and used. “He wants to get out of prison and be a merchant like me. He loves life and wants to live in peace. We as a family love life, not death, and certainly don’t want our children to die. Whatever you can do to help him will help us as well.”

The military tribunal judge, Maj. Samzar Shagog, accepted the arguments, explaining, “I have been convinced that the defendant was used by the operative in order to obtain funds, and that in practice the conspiracy didn’t advance. At the same time, we must not ignore the fact that the defendant was the initiator of the contact, believed that his plan to commit a suicide attack was indeed taking shape, and was willing to do anything to advance it.

The proposed penalty is lenient toward the defendant. However, I have decided at the end of the day to accept the plea deal in light of the fact that the defendant was a minor during the commission of the crimes, and my having been convinced that there was no real chance of the plan’s realization.”

The judge added: “It is my impression that the defendant comes from a normative family and that following his release from prison, his father and family will act to rehabilitate him and keep an eye on him. Furthermore, in light of the defendant’s confession and comments, I have been convinced that he takes responsibility for his actions and regrets them.”

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