Israeli Lawmakers Rally in Support of Man Imprisoned for Killing His Rapist

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum call on President Rivlin to pardon Yonatan Heilo, who killed the man who raped, abused and blackmailed him.

Noam Moskowitz

More than half of Knesset members from across the political spectrum have signed a letter calling on the president to issue a pardon in the case of Yonatan Heilo, who killed the man who raped, abused and blackmailed him.

Heilo, who is now 29, underwent years of abuse in the underprivileged Netanya neighborhood where he grew up. His chief abuser was Yaron Eilin, a dominant and threatening figure in the local Ethiopian community, who abused Heilo both physically and emotionally, and extorted money from him. Heilo told police investigators that Eilin had forcibly sodomized him twice.

In May 2010, Eilin accosted Heilo and demanded he pay him 1,000 shekels ($260) “by tomorrow or the day after,” or he would “get a beating.” Eilin turned around to urinate in an empty lot. Heilo then choked Eilin and then hit him on the head with bricks, killing him.

A woman holds a sign outside the High Court demanding Yonatan Heilo's release, Monday, Dec 1, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Heilo was initially convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Two weeks ago, despite the large public support for Heilo, the Supreme Court rejected his claims that his difficult life and fear of further sexual and other abuse granted him the right to self-defense. However, the Supreme Court partially accepted his appeal, changing the murder charge to manslaughter and reducing the sentence to 12 years. He has served five years of his sentence so far.

In the letter to President Reuven Rivlin, initiated by MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) and signed by 65 of 120 members of the Knesset, the legislators state, "The story of Heilo is certainly well-familiar to you: A youth from the Ethiopian community without a criminal background, who was subject to extended verbal, physical and emotional abuse by a neighborhood bully, until at a certain point in a rash decision he reacted to that bully and violently deprived him of life."

"Heilo indeed took the law into his own hands and committed a very serious act," the letter stated. "There is no doubt that he should be punished for this and pay his debt to society. However, in no way is it possible to compare the killing in his tragic case and other cases of evil criminals."

The letter also refers to Heilo's Ethiopian background. "Something else that must be said honestly and with sadness," it says, is that "Heilo's story is not only a tragic, personal case. It accurately reflects the reality of the difficult lives of many members of the Ethiopian community, people whom the state and welfare authorities neglect, whom the police sometimes harasses, and in some cases many prefer to suffer quietly simply because they feel that they have no one to turn to."

MK Hasson said that "recruiting 65 MKs from all the house's parties, without exception, attests to the broad and almost unprecedented legitimacy in pardoning a man who fell victim both to an attacker who left in him terrible emotional scars and to his personal distress, which pushed him to commit the act that he did. Let it be noted that this is a decisive majority among the Knesset members who are not members of the government."