Palestinian Convicted of Murdering Three Israelis in Settlement, but Will Not Face Death Penalty

Omar al-Abed could receive four life sentences for killing three members of the Salomon family in July 2017 at Halamish ■ Prosecution ignores calls of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to push for death sentence

Mourners attending the funeral of three members of the Salomon family, July 2017.
Gil Cohen-Magen

A Palestinian man was found guilty Wednesday of murdering three members of an Israeli family in a West Bank settlement in July 2017, but the prosecution ignored the calls of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to seek the death penalty as punishment.

Omar al-Abed, 20, was found guilty in Ofer Military Court of three counts of deliberately causing the death (the military version of premeditated murder) of three members of the Salomon family in Halamish on July 21.

The prosecution is seeking four life sentences for Abed and the sentence will be handed down at a later stage.

Abed was also found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, as well as other charges.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the prosecution and defense presented their arguments regarding punishment, and the Salomon family was also given the opportunity to speak.

The military prosecution urged the court to give Abed four life sentences. Lieberman, however, believed Abed should face the death penalty. In a statement to the press and Twitter on Wednesday morning, Lieberman stated: “I call on the judges to show courage and sentence the terrorist to death.”

He added that Jewish blood should not be held lightly – and that there is “no place for terrorists, not even in prison.”

Following Abed’s conviction on Wednesday, though, Lieberman tweeted that Israel is a normative country and, just as the justice minister cannot dictate to the prosecution and Supreme Court, he as defense minister is not entitled to direct military judges and the prosecution. He added he was speaking as chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and as an Israeli citizen when had called on the judges to impose the death penalty.

Although the death penalty is an option under the military code that governs Palestinians in the West Bank, the Israeli policy is not to seek it.

Abed was charged last August with “deliberately causing death.” The Salomons were eating Shabbat dinner when Abed, 19 at the time, entered their house armed with a knife. He killed the father, Yosef Salomon, 70, and two of his children, daughter Chaya and son Elad. The mother, Tova, was wounded in the attack.

Israeli forces near the site of the attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish and assailant Omar al-Abed, July 21, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also previously called for the death penalty for Abed, according to members of the Salomon family.

In practice, the military prosecution is the ministerial responsibility of Lieberman. But since the prosecution did not demand the death sentence for Abed, the military judges would not have the freedom to decide on that as an option, even if they wanted to. Lieberman’s call, in other words, was not based on any concrete legal prospect.

Abed was charged last August with “deliberately causing death.” The Salomons were eating Shabbat dinner when Abed, 19 at the time, entered their house armed with a knife. He killed the father, Yosef Salomon, 70, and two of his children, daughter Chaya and son Elad. The mother, Tova, was wounded in the attack.

Aside from the three murders, Abed was also accused in August of attempting to murder seven other people: Yosef’s wife, Tova; Elad’s wife, Michal; and Elad and Michal’s five children. He was also charged with intent to commit terror attacks in the months before the Halamish murders.

According to the indictment, on July 14, Abed decided to commit the murders after an attack on the Temple Mount in which two Israeli policemen were killed by three Israeli-Arab gunmen. He infiltrated the settlement armed with a knife and chose the house because of the light and sounds of laughter emanating from it. Mid-attack, he was shot by a soldier on weekend leave who lived next door.

Members of the Salomon family protested in court on Wednesday that the military prosecution had not sought the death penalty. During a condolence call to the family as they sat shivah, they said Netanyahu had told them the death penalty is anchored in law: “The judges have to be unanimous, but they also want to know the position of the government. My position as prime minister, in this case, of such a low murderer is that he should be put to death,” he allegedly told them.