Israeli Court Stiffens Jail Term for Jewish-Arab School Arsonist

Yitzhak Gabay gets another four months behind bars, for a total of 40 months, as the Supreme Court rejects his appeal and finds for the state which found his punishment for the November 2014 attack too lenient.

Jerusalem's Max Rayne Hand in Hand bilingual school on November 30, 2014, a day after the arson attack.
Emil Salman

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stiffened the prison term for an Israeli man convicted of an arson attack two years ago at a school in Jerusalem for Jewish and Arab pupils called the Max Rayne Hand in Hand bilingual school.

Yitzhak Gabay had his sentence increased from 36 months to 40 months. 
Justices Esther Hayut, Uri Shoham and Anat Baron rejected Gabay’s appeal, but accepted an appeal by the state which sought a stricter punishment than that given by the Jerusalem District Court in December. 

Someone would rather burn my son's school than let Jews and Arabs coexist

Gabay, one of three men charged for the attack, was convicted in a plea bargain of arson, vandalizing land, two counts of possessing a knife, and several counts of inciting to violence, racism, and supporting a terror organization.

In his opinion, Shoham wrote that “the gravity of the act of arson is even more intense, as we are talking about the torching of the bilingual school in which Jewish and Arab pupils learn together, [an act] motivated by hatred of those who seeking to advance coexistence between the Jewish and Arab populations.”

“Torching this institution in particular was meant, from the perspective of the defendants, to generate media resonance for their extreme ideological positions, and to undermine the feeling of security among the pupils and teachers at the bilingual school. One must recall in this context the graffiti spray-painted on the walls by the defendants, in which they described the school as a place that leads to miscegenation, called for the deaths of the Arab pupils, and stressed that ‘There is no coexisting with cancer,’” Shoham wrote.

In January, Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Zvi Zylbertal and Yoram Danziger extended the sentences of the two other arsonists, brothers Shlomo and Nahman Twito, also in response to a state appeal.

Both were punished for an additional eight months, raising Shlomo Twito sentence to 32 months and Nahman Twito's term to 38 months. 

In that ruling, Rubinstein wrote, “who like the Jewish people, whose history is replete with persecution just because we were Jews, and [against whom] anti-Semitism is even today rearing its ugly head, which was never cut off, but comes in new, more intense forms, must be sensitive to others. This ideological component – and woe unto that ideology – adds a frightening dimension to the act of arson that’s at the heart of the crimes.

"What is a little boy, age six or seven, meant to think when he sees messages of malice and racism in the arson and graffiti? This is why it’s serious, and thus the crackdown,” Rubinstein wrote.

In the November 2014 attack the three men torched and defaced a kindergarten classroom with graffiti that said "End the assimilation," "No coexistence with cancer," at a school that is Israel's largest Jewish-Arab institution, directed by both a Jewish and an Arab principal, since its founding in 1998.

Most Israeli youngsters attend separate, segregated schools for either Jews and Arabs.