Six Arab men from Jaffa were indicted on Monday for the attempted murder of a 19-year-old off-duty Israeli soldier last month, during the latest Gaza conflict.
The soldier, Lion Shernin, was seriously injured in the Jaffa attack, which took place on May 13, sustaining a brain hemorrhage. He is undergoing rehabilitation at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, where he was taken immediately after the attack.
The attack took place during the riots that broke out in Jaffa, as well as in other mixed Jewish-Arab cities, in response to the fighting in the Gaza Strip. Shernin was in Jaffa to visit his grandfather when rioters threw rocks at him and sprayed him with pepper spray, according to a Magen David Adom ambulance service medic, Nadav Arazi, who treated Shernin at the scene.
The six defendants, all in their 20s, were arrested after the incident, and their respective detentions have been extended several times since by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.
Nour Yousef was charged with an act of terror of attempted murder; Muhammad Ayyash was charged with an act of terror of aggravated intentional harm, incitement to terror and obstructing justice. Lutfi Wachsh was charged with racially-motivated assault causing serious injury. Three others – Ali Masri, Ra'ab Mahamid and Laurence Mahamid – were charged with an act of terror of aggravated intentional harm. In a video filmed by Ayyash during the event, he can be heard saying "Here he is after he was beat. He's done for, he can't move."
According to the indictment, the six said they were involved in the attack. Yousef admitted to hurling a stone at Shernin; Yousef's DNA was also found on the stone. Ayyash admitted to taking part in attacking the soldier, and even incriminated others involved. Besides for the confessions and evidence taken from Ayyash's phone, Shernin and witnesses identified Masri, Ayyash and Yousef. All of the defendents have criminal records for theft and drug offenses.
The indictment adds that the defendants gathered hours before the attack with the intent of harming Jews and their property. Five out of the six were members of a WhatsApp group made for that purpose, in which Ayyash instructed the others to block security cameras in the area they planned to target in order to cover their tracks. "The government comes and takes the cameras," he wrote. "Whoever has a [security] camera, put it away. They're coming around, they were at my place now."
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Despite the confessions, Shadi Kabaha, the lawyer representing three of the six suspects, told Haaretz that the interrogation techniques used by the Shin Bet security service, which headed the investigation, led them to make false confessions.
“My clients did not do anything and did not hurt anyone. The Shin Bet’s well-known investigative techniques did their work. The time has come for the Knesset and the courts to regulate the subject of investigations conducted in the shadows. There is an incorrect balance between the needs of the investigation and national security and the rights of the suspects. We will prove their innocence in court,” he said.
Also Monday, law enforcement officials said that investigators are increasingly of the opinion that the murder of Yigal Yehoshua in Lod, who died after rocks were thrown at his car by rioters, was a hate crime.
Officials said that it was difficult to prove the crime of murder – the focus of the investigation – for legal and evidentiary reasons, but that there have been major developments in the case.
Yehoshua was attacked while he was on his way home on the second night of the Arab rioting in Lod on May 11. A gag order has been imposed on the details of the investigation, but before it was issued, it was reported that the central suspicion was that the murder was a hate crime and was carried out by Arab residents of Lod who were targeting cars belonging to Jews. Investigators suspect that at least one of the rocks thrown at Yehoshua’s car hit him in the head and caused his death.
The findings in the investigation were presented on Monday to the judges in the district and magistrate’s courts in the central region. The investigation is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet and the central investigations unit of the police’s Central District. The Shin Bet’s participation in the investigation enables the use of investigative activities which the police do not have the authority to conduct.
In the first few weeks of the investigation of Yehoshua’s murder, the police found it difficult to locate the suspects, and even examined the possibility that his death was caused by rocks thrown by right-wing Jewish extremists, who erroneously believed he was an Arab – but that possibility was ruled out.
Like in other violent incidents that occurred during last month's riots, the Shin Bet led the investigation in both of these cases. Legal documents obtained by Haaretz last month show that the police transferred the handling of a number of serious crimes during the recent wave of violence to the Shin Bet, and the investigations were conducted in cooperation with the central investigations units of various police districts around the country.
Last month, an indictment was filed against four Jaffa residents over their involvement in an attempted murder of a Jewish resident. The four were charged with aggravated assault, battery and theft, but were not indicted for a hate crime.