Suspects Indicted for Burning of Acre Hotel During May Riots, but Not for Homicide

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A blaze set by rioters in Acre, in May.
A blaze set by rioters in Acre, in May.Credit: Rami Shllush

Seven people have been indicted for torching a hotel in Acre during May’s interethnic riots, but none of them has been charged with killing the man who died in that fire.

A gag order on the details of the indictment has been lifted at Haaretz’s request.

In mid-May, Aby Har-Even, a former director general of the Israel Space Agency and an Israel Defense Prize winner, was staying at the Efendi Hotel in Acre when a group of Arab Israelis torched it. He was badly hurt in the blaze and died of his injuries on June 6.

Aby Har-Even, who was wounded in the arson and later died, in 2005.Credit: Eyal Toueg

After the attack, the police and the Shin Bet security service arrested several suspects, who were barred from meeting with a lawyer during their first days in detention. But investigators never managed to determine which of them was responsible for Har-Even’s death.

The indictment, submitted on June 1, therefore does not include homicide charges. Instead, it contains only lesser charges of arson and various other acts of rioting.

According to the indictment, the seven defendants arrived at the hotel on May 11, “knowing it was under Jewish ownership, for the purpose of sowing destruction, out of racist motives.” One threw a fire bomb at the hotel, causing a fire in the lobby that burned for about 10 minutes before being put out. That man was charged with a terrorist act of arson and using a weapon for terrorist purposes.

But law enforcement officials said that because the blaze was extinguished quickly and was confined to a small area, it wasn’t possible to connect the arsonists to Har-Even’s injuries.

According to the indictment, after the fire was put out, the seven men entered the hotel and wreaked havoc. They broke chairs, sofas, office equipment, ornaments, plates and other objects, and destroyed the reception desk and cupboards.

They also broke the security cameras and stole certain items, the indictment said. For these crimes, they were charged with rioting, theft, vandalism and breaking and entering, all out of racist motives.

In addition, three defendants were charged with throwing stones at police; three with torching, vandalizing and robbing the Uri Buri restaurant; three with assaulting a municipal inspector; one with stealing and torching clothing from a Jewish-owned store; and one with illegal weapons possession. All those offenses were committed during the wider riots in Acre as well.

The indictment was under a gag order until Wednesday, when the Haifa District Court agreed to Haaretz’s request to let most of the details be published. The prosecution objected to lifting the gag order on the grounds that the investigation was still in process, as the police and the Shin Bet are still trying to determine who was responsible for Har-Even’s death.

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