'A Strategic Terror Attack': Top Court Rejects Insanity Appeal of Israeli Killer of Palestinian Teen

Yosef Ben-David claimed he was insane when he abducted and murdered Palestinian teen in 2014 ■ He will serve life in prison

Yosef Ben-David at court the morning of February 8, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Supreme Court on Thursday denied the appeal of Yosef Chaim Ben-David, who had been convicted of the abduction and gruesome murder of Palestinian East Jerusalem teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July of 2014. The court rejected Ben-David's argument that he had been insane at the time of the crime and also confirmed his sentence of life in prison plus another 20 years. The high court called Ben-David "the living spirit" behind the crime.

Abu Khdeir, 16, was abducted from the neighborhood Shoafat near his home by Ben-David, 29, and two Israeli Jewish juveniles. The Palestinian was driven to the Jerusalem Forest, where he was beaten and burned alive. The state has officially recognized him as a terror victim.

The Jerusalem District Court found Ben-David guilty of murder, kidnapping for the purpose of murder and battery causing bodily harm after rejecting his insanity plea. In addition to the prison term, Ben-David was ordered to pay 150,000 shekels ($43,000) to the Abu Khdeir family and 20,000 shekels to the Zalum family, whose son Ben-David attempted to abduct a day before. At a pre-sentence hearing, Ben-David apologized to Abu Khdeir's family.

Ben-David's two accomplices were also convicted of murder. One was sentenced to life in prison and the other to 21 years. Each of the minor defendants was required to pay the Abu Khdeir family 30,000 shekels ($7,700) in compensation. The Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed their convictions and their sentences.

According to testimony in court, Abu Khdeir was murdered in revenge for the abduction and killing in the West Bank of three teenage yeshiva students, Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, whose bodies was found a day before.

In confirming the convictions and the sentences of the three, the Supreme Court panel of justices spoke of the defendants'  "racism, ignorance and hatred" and described their deeds as "a strategic terrorist attack that ignited a conflagration in the territories in general and in East Jerusalem in particular."

With regard to the juvenile defendants, the court rejected their claim that they had not intended to kill Abu Khdeir. The three, the justices ruled, should be viewed as having acted together and therefore as all being directly guilty for the murder. "The cruelty of the act in addition to the racist, ideological motive on which it was based, lead to the conclusion that there are no grounds to interfere with the punishment that was imposed on them [by the district court]."

In convicting Ben-David, the Jerusalem District Court  found that he had been in control of all of his actions, had given orders to his accomplices, and "at the critical moment in which the pitiful victim was lying on the ground and taking his last breaths, kicked him and explained [the defendant's] motives of revenge." The court also refused a request for leniency that was made based on his mental state. Although the district court acknowledged that he was taking psychiatric medication and was in treatment at the time of the crime, the three-judge panel said that he was leading a normal life at the time and was holding down a job and doing volunteer work.

At the conclusion of their ruling, the Supreme Court justices, Isaac Amit, Uri Shoham and George Karra, said the case should prompt "pointed soul-searching in Israeli society" over racism and its effects on the country.