Israel's First Polygamy Conviction Ends Without Prison Time

Court rejects prosecutors' demand, sentencing Bedouin man who married two women to 400 hours of community service

Amin Abu Sakik outside of the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court, February 28, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

An Israeli court rejected on Thursday prosecution's demand to impose prison time on a 34-year-old Bedouin man convicted of polygamy. Instead, the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court ruled that Amin Abu Sakik, a resident of Negev town Arara, will perform 400 hours of community service, in addition to a one-year probation and a 36,000-shekel ($9,936) fine.

Abu Sakik, the only man convicted of polygamy since the prosecution resumed enforcing the law against it in January 2017, admitted during his trial to being married to two women, but said he did so in accordance with religious law and had not been aware of legislation forbidding it.

The prosecution, which filed an indictment against Abu Sakik in May, may appeal the court's ruling. According to the indictment, Abu Sakik married for the first time in 2006, and in 2017 he took a Palestinian wife 12 years his junior.

The Probation Service recommended that Abu Sakik do 60 hours of community service in a primary school, while prosecutors want the man to serve seven to 18 months in prison. “This violation undermines public order in an enlightened society and as such it must be dealt with seriously and uprooted,” the prosecution said.

Enforcement of the 1977 law against polygamy, which is common mainly in the Bedouin society, has been resumed after decades of neglect by Israel's prosecution and police. In 2015, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered the establishment of several teams tasked with finding ways to halt the phenomenon, and two years later, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published a new directive on it.

The legal process against Abu Sakik progressed rapidly, in part due to his confession. Over a dozen other processes on polygamy are in much earlier stages, and some lawyers claim Abu Sakik's case is the result of selective enforcement.