Israel’s Supreme Court reduced the sentence of a West Bank settler convicted of throwing stun grenades at the homes of Palestinians.
The settler, whose identity cannot be made public because he was a minor at the time of the crime, had been sentenced by a district court judge to 20 months in prison, but the Supreme court reduced it on Monday to 12 months, based on a plea agreement that the defense and prosecution had reached.
In their ruling, Supreme Court justices George Karra, David Mintz and Noam Solberg called for the Knesset to provide stiffer sentences for such an offense, but they granted the settler’s appeal after the Central District Court in Lod had refused to ratify the plea agreement.
District Court Judge Hagai Tarsi had ruled that the 12-month sentence in the plea agreement was too lenient and imposed the 20-month prison term instead.
Tarsi said that the prosecution had failed to justify a sentence that would have provided “such an extreme benefit” to the defendant. Judge Tarsi said he actually deserved a 2-and-a-half-year sentence but explained that the defendant’s admission to the acts with which he was charged justified reducing it to 20 months – in addition to the payment of 60,000 shekels ($19,200) in restitution.
The appeal to the Supreme Court was filed on the defendant’s behalf by the right-wing legal aid organization Honenu.
The case arose out of an incident in January 2021 in the northern West Bank village of Sarta, west of the settlement of Ariel. Along with seven other assailants, they threw concussion grenades and stones at four houses in the village and damaged two cars.
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A 61-year-old Palestinian man was lightly injured in the forehead by fragments when one of the grenades was thrown. Two Palestinian women, one of whom was pregnant, were also lightly injured. A portion of the incident was filmed by security cameras.
As part of his plea agreement, the settler admitted to acts constituting racially motivated conspiracy, racially motivated aggravated injuring, possession of a knife and intentionally damaging motor vehicles. Due to the Supreme Court’s reduction of his sentence, he is due to be released from prison shortly. The seven other suspects in the case were never charged.
In general, Israeli courts tend only to intervene in plea agreements worked out by prosecutors and defendants’ lawyers in extreme circumstances. The approach is that generally the courts should not second-guess the prosecutor’s judgment, and when trial court judges refuse to approve plea agreements, the Supreme Court, as in the current case, have sometimes overruled the trial court judge.
In the present case, the Supreme Court panel looked to rulings in similar cases in the past and accepted the prosecution’s justifications of the plea agreement – the fact that the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the crime and that he had intended to damage property but not to harm people. District Court Judge Tarsi had called the reliance on the defendant’s intention only to damage property “mistaken and outrageous.”
The Supreme Court panel also noted that the plea agreement had the support not only of the defendant and the prosecution but also of the Palestinian victims themselves. The Supreme Court left in place the order of 60,000 shekels in restitution, which will be divided among the Palestinian victims.
Adi Keidar, the Honenu lawyer who represented the defendant, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the plea agreement, but he expressed regret that it required the appeal to the Supreme Court in the first place.
But Keidar also took exception to the Supreme Court panel’s call for the Knesset to increase the punishment for acts of the kind committed by his client. “Matters need to be examined based upon all the information and the criteria prevailing in criminal law,” he said.
Michal Ziv, the lawyer who represented the Palestinian victims on behalf of the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, said that the staff at the organization hadn’t been adamant about the 20-month sentence imposed by the district court because the defendant was a juvenile at the time of his crime.