In Murder Trial of Palestinian Woman, Forensic Experts Disagree on Cause of Death

Top doctor believes Aisha Rabi's wounds could not have been caused by a stone, but others disagree; court orders release of Israeli minor, whose DNA was found on the stone that hit her car, to house arrest

Jewish protesters outside the court in Lod where the case is being tried, April 15, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Doctors from the Israel National Center of Forensic Medicine are in disagreement over the nature of the wounds sustained by a Palestinian woman who was killed after Jewish settlers threw stones at her car.

The diverging professional opinions on the injuries suffered by Aisha Rabi last October were presented in court on Tuesday.

The head of the center, Dr. Chen Kugel, said the injuries on Rabi's head were not consistent with those caused by being struck by a stone. He added that Rabi had two separate impact marks on her head, which led to her death.

Two other doctors from the center disagreed with Kugel's assessment, saying that they believed a rock could cause this sort of damage.

Aisha Rabi.

A 16-year-old Jewish yeshiva student whose DNA was found on the rock that hit Rabi's car has been charged with manslaughter.

According to the indictment, the suspect and other yeshiva students were on a hill near Route 60 in the central West Bank on October 12. The suspect "held a rock weighing close to two kilograms, with the intention of using it to harm Arab passengers, out of an ideological motive of racism and hostility toward Arabs everywhere."

The suspect then threw the rock forcefully at the windshield of a car with a Palestinian license plate, which "directly and forcefully struck Rabi's head, all in front of her family."

"A search through the professional literature does not produce another incident where such widespread damage resulted from being struck with a stone," Kugel wrote in his official opinion, which was also signed by another doctor.

He said that in light of the nature of the incident, he chose to bring forward a range of opinions from the institute rather than a single opinion. "I stand behind my opinion with a clear conscience," he concluded.

Released to house arrest

Last week, Lod District Court Judge Hagai Tarsi said the Probation Service would examine the possibility of releasing the minor suspected of killing Rabi to house arrest with an electronic monitoring device to his grandparents' house in Kfar Sava. Should their house meet the necessary requirements, the suspect is expected to be released to full house arrest this week.

Yacoub Rabi, Aisha's husband, said on Tuesday morning that he heard about the release of the suspect to house arrest from Haaretz. He said that he avoids going into Israel and does not follow the case. No Israeli officials have updated him on developments in the case, he added.

According to Rabi all the witnesses and evidence showed that his wife was killed as a result of a stone thrown at their car and now they are looking for ways to exonerate the suspect. "I am ask the Israelis, through you: If things were the other way around, do you think a Palestinian suspect would be released if the victim was Israeli? I think the answer for you, is fairly clear, but for us, as Palestinians, it pains me to say there is nothing to hope for," he told Haaretz.

"It is impossible to ignore the fact that the main evidence against the minor is circumstantial," the judge wrote in reference to the DNA that was found on the stone that caused Rabi's death.

The judge said the suspect would be under the supervision of his parents, grandparents or other designated family members 24 hours a day, and that he would be forbidden from contacting others. In addition, the judge would set the suspect's bail at 100,000 shekels ($27,000).

According to transcripts of his interrogation, the minor denied that he had thrown stones at Rabi's vehicle, negating the DNA evidence that implicated him.

"I was walking around a lot in that area and might have spat and hit a rock. I've chosen to live my life according to the Torah, I'm not a person that would do something like this," the minor said in his testimony.

Rabi told Haaretz that from the beginning he was suspicious of the Israeli law enforcement agencies. "In cases like ours, the same system is the judge, the hangman, and the one who releases. There is no possibility for me as a husband, and certainly not as a Palestinian, to influence or expect a just sentence."

Rabi also had no shortage of criticism for the Palestinian Authority, explaining that since his wife's death he has had no help dealing with the consequences. "My daughter, who was with us in the car, has been in a very difficult emotional state since the event," he says.  "I'm alone, running around with her between doctors and specialists, and there's no one to help."