Israeli Arab Who Murdered Rabbi in West Bank Gets Life Sentence

Abed al-Hakim Asi rejects his lawyer's attempts to plead reduced responsibility, tells prosecutors 'you're the terrorists, not us'

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Arrest of Abed al-Hakim Asi in Nablus, West Bank, March 18, 2018
Arrest of Abed al-Hakim Asi in Nablus, West Bank, March 18, 2018Credit: IDF Spokesperson Unit

An Israeli Arab was sentenced to life in prison on Sunday for murdering a rabbi near the West Bank settlement of Ariel last year.

Abed al-Hakim Asi was also ordered to pay Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal’s family 258,000 shekels ($74,300) in compensation.

During the sentencing hearing, Asi’s lawyer started to argue that his client had personal problems that ought to be taken into account. But Asi cut him off, saying he didn’t accept this argument and wanted to be sentenced immediately.

“I didn’t do this because I’m not getting my meds; that’s completely unrelated,” he said. “I did this with sound mind.”

“I want to tell the prosecutor that you’re the terrorists, not us,” he added. “Ahmed Abu Khdeir [sic] and the Dawabsheh family – what do you want, for us to sit quietly when we see that?”

Teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered by Jews in July 2014 in a revenge killing following Hamas’ abduction and murder of three Israeli Jewish teenagers in the West Bank. Three members of the Dawabsheh family were killed when their home in the West Bank village of Duma was torched in 2015; a Jewish Israeli is currently standing trial for that crime.

Attorney Chaim Blaycher of the Honenu organization, who represents the Ben-Gal family, gave the court a letter from Ben-Gal’s parents in which they urged the judges to impose the maximum sentence. They also requested that Asi not be included in any further prisoner swap.

“We ask you to impose a jail sentence that will cause him to rot in jail until his dying day, so he’ll never be able to see the light of day again,” they wrote.

Ben-Gal was killed on February 5, 2018 as he was waiting at a bus stop in Ariel en route to his nephew’s circumcision. A videotape of the incident shows Asi getting out of a shared taxi, crossing the highway and stabbing him.

According to the indictment, Asi, a 19-year-old Israeli Arab, identified the 29-year-old rabbi as a Jew by his clothing and skullcap. He then approached Ben-Gal, “pulled out one of his knives and stabbed him with great force in his chest and stomach.”

The scene of the terrorist attack in Ariel, February 5, 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The indictment said he decided “to perpetrate an act of terror for nationalist and ideological reasons motivations, to cause the death of Jews because they were Jews, against the background of an argument that took place the previous day between him and IDF soldiers at the Ariel Junction.”

When Ben-Gal tried to flee, the indictment added, Asi chased him, giving up his pursuit only when a driver who witnessed the attack hit him with his car. Asi was arrested about six weeks later.

Ben-Gal was married with two children, aged one and seven. He worked as a teacher at both the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Givat Shmuel and the Har Bracha Yeshiva. At his funeral, the chairman of the Har Bracha residents’ committee, Yoni Hayisraeli, said Ben-Gal had been a very active member of the West Bank settlement and “devoted his life to education and settling the land.”