Settler Teen Who Attacked Activist Rabbi at Knifepoint Gets Community Service

Rabbi Arik Ascherman was attacked while assisting Palestinians with an olive harvest; Judge says teenager has good chance at rehabilitation

A settler attacks Rabbis for Human Rights right Rabbi Arik Ascherman with a knife near the settlement of Itamar in West Bank. October 23, 2015.
Rabbis for Human Rights

An Israeli teenager who threw rocks and threatened the head of a Jewish human rights organization with a knife near a West Bank settlement in 2015 was given 150 hours of community service by a juvenile court. The court did not convict the teen, who was born in 1998, of a crime and his name remains under a gag order because he was a minor when he committed the offense.

The incident took place on Hill 851 next to the settlement of Itamar in the northern West Bank in October 2015, when Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights was returning with a Palestinian farmer after harvesting olives. The teenager, wearing a mask, punched and kicked Ascherman, attacked him with rocks and threatened him with a 13-centimeter knife.

At the time, the police described the incident as “friction between left-wing and right-wing activists during the [Palestinian] olive harvest.”

In her decision, Judge Sharon Halevy wrote that she opted for community service because a conviction could hamper the teen’s chances of getting drafted into the Israeli army, and because she believes he has a good chance at rehabilitation.

The prosecution argued that the teenager was nearly an adult when the incident occurred. It said that on top of concealing his face, he hadn’t momentarily lost his senses but carried out a sustained attack using various forms of violence. Prosecutors argued that if he had been adult at the time, there is no question that he would spend time in prison for the assault.

The defense argued that the teenager had confessed and accepted responsibility under questioning by police.

Interior Minister Arye Dery wrote a letter to the court for the case, saying he knows the teenager personally and believes he has a big heart and is characterized by helping others. Dery also said that he understood that the teen was very sorry for the incident and wanted to turn over a new leaf.

The probation service wrote that when he was 13, the teenager had been traumatized by the murder of a close friend and his family in the town. The probation officer also wrote that the teen is a quality person who does not demonstrate criminal patterns and the event was unusual for him.

Ascherman himself said that when he learned that his attacker was a minor, he was distressed upon realizing the teen’s future could be in danger. The real criminals were the people who induced him to resort to such behavior, Ascherman said, adding that both his safety and the teenager’s rehabilitation were important.

Halevy wrote that all in all, the teenager in question is a positive person to whom violence is alien. Before the incident itself and in the two years that have followed, he did not engage in violence. “On the contrary,“ she wrote, ”his amiability and good heart were known to all. The probation review and evidence indicate to me that the youth reacted with violence out of a storm of unprocessed emotions, not cool rationality and a wish to do harm.”

The judge added that the teenager is eager to be drafted to the Israeli army, and his highest scores on the pre-enlistment tests are in physical fitness and the ability to accept authority.

The leniency was contingent on the teenager agreeing to a 5,000-shekel ($1400) fine if he commits another violent act during the next two and a half years, in addition to paying Ascherman 5,000 shekels in compensation.

After the sentencing, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who represented the teenager in court, said that the punishment was proportional. “We presented information that leftists and Arabs committed provocations and climbed over the fence of the settlement, which brought up associations from the terror attack in which the Fogel family was killed,” he said, referring to the 2011 attack in the settlement of Itamar in which two Palestinians broke into the home of the Fogel family and stabbed the parents and their three young children to death.

Ben-Gvir also added that Ascherman had also counseled for leniency.