The State Prosecutor's Office has reached a lenient plea deal with six Israelis accused of attacking a 60-year-old Arab man in a mosque during last May's fighting in Gaza.
The deal was reached despite recent appeals to the Supreme Court to toughen the sentences of those convicted of rioting in mixed cities.
According to the indictment, which alleged that the assault was intentional and organized, three of the defendants arrived armed with weapons to the parking lot of the Sidna Ali mosque in Herzliya during Ramadan. They met some 12 others, and after the police car defending the prayer service left, attacked Haj Yihya after confirming that he was an Arab.
The assailants smashed his head with a rock, sprayed his face with pepper spray and pelted his car with rocks and glass bottles, among other things. When he pretended to be dead, they stabbed him in the shoulder and then left him. Haj Yihya was later hospitalized in moderate condition.
After a long nine-month arbitration process, the indictment in the case was amended to remove the “act of terrorism” charge, which would have doubled the defendants' sentence. In an unusual move, the prosecution did not send a press release to the media regarding the plea arrangement.
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The Tel Aviv District Court convicted the six men – Yaakov Atenau, Nissim Azulay, Roee Tam, Or Mashti, Orel Carmeli and Shaked Siboni – last Thursday pursuant to the plea deal. The original charges against them were premeditated terrorist bodily assault with aggravating circumstances and intentional and racially motivated vehicular damage.
Under the deal, however, the six confessed to, and were convicted of intentional and racially motivated vehicular damage. Five of them were convicted of bodily assault with aggravating circumstances and Atenau was convicted of bodily assault with aggravating intent. As part of the latter's plea deal, the prosecution will seek a penalty of five years in prison, while the other defendants’ sentences have not yet been agreed on.
The indictment was based mainly on confessions by two of the six men, Atenau and Azulay, which the prosecution believed could be used to convict them of terrorist intent. This, based on the fact that the six organized and went out to deliberately attack Arabs.
While they are not expected to face the maximum penalties set under the law – ten years for racially motivated vehicular damage and 14 years for those convicted of bodily assault with aggravating circumstances – the prosecution believes that the sentences will be severe compared to those handed down in similar cases.
The mob attack victim, Ghassan Haj Yihya of the village of Taibeh, told Haaretz on Monday that he was “surprised by the decision to remove the terrorism charge. What is this if not terrorism? I could have died," he said.
"I’m traumatized from the incident to this day, afraid to be alone at night. The conviction makes it sound like I was in a scuffle with them, and no – I am a victim of terrorism," Haj Yihya said. "It seems that the court, despite all the evidence they have, doesn’t view the case as terrorism."
Haj Yihya plans to sue the defendants personally, he said.