Israel finds three guilty of 2014 murder of Palestinian teen

Stiff sentences for Muhammad Abu Khdeir's killers could mitigate longstanding concerns that Israel treats Jewish suspects more leniently than Palestinian ones. But the suspects, including two teens, still await formal convictions. 

Ammar Awad/ Reuters
Palestinians protest outside the Jerusalem District Court during the trial of two minors, and one 34 year-old man, accused of murdering Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khudair in 2014. All three were found guilty, but a last-minute psychological review for the older suspect delayed his formal conviction. Israeli minors may only be convicted after a social worker evaluation.

Three Israelis, including two minors, were found guilty on Monday of the murder of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old who was attacked and burnt alive in July 2014. 

The attack was one of two this year to roil not only Palestinian, but Israeli, society, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes under increasing domestic and international pressure to treat Israelis suspected of crimes against Palestinians more harshly, as decades-old complaints over unfair treatment of Palestinians in the legal system fuel an ongoing wave of violence in the country.

The defendants, 31-year-old shop owner Yosef Haim Ben-David and two teens whose names have been withheld by the Jerusalem District Court, admitted to abducting and attacking Muhammad, setting him on fire, and leaving him in a Jerusalem forest on July 2, 2014, a murder intended as revenge for the high-profile killings by Palestinians of three Israeli yeshiva students who were buried the day before Muhammad's death. 

"I want that what is done to Arabs will also be done to Jews: life sentences, not pardoning," Muhammad's father told Israel's Army Radio before the court's announcement. 

The three have not been formally convicted: under Israeli law, a social worker must first approve convictions of minors, and a last-minute request for a psychiatric evaluation for Mr. Ben-David prevented the court from convicting him

Ben-David's case will be discussed again on December 20. Sentencing for the teenagers is expected in January. 

It was unclear if the verdicts would assuage fury over a perceived double standard in Israel's treatment of Jewish and Muslim suspects. In July, the Knesset increased the punishment for Palestinian rock-throwers to up to 20 years in jail, and the Defense Forces have returned to a policy of frequently demolishing homes of Palestinian suspects' families. Monday's acquittals of two other Israelis, who, as teens, confessed to shooting at a Palestinian bus and killing one rider, may have underscored the impression of different legal standards for Israelis and Palestinians, although the court ruled that police abuse had undermined the suspects' rights.

Muhammad's death was soon followed by the 2014 war in Gaza, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers, while reducing many neighborhoods in the Strip to rubble.

Last summer, both sides of the conflict were again thrown into frustration, sorrow, and debate by the firebombing of a Palestinian home in Duma, a suspected Israeli extremist attack that killed a mother, father, and infant. For months, Israel's failure to bring the perpetrators to justice contributed to rising Palestinian anger that some say has fueled the current spate of stabbing attacks. 

As The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month, out of 1,000 cases of Jewish extremist violence against Palestinians in the past decade, only 2 percent have reached convictions

"They don’t know how to solve these cases because they never really tried, and the perpetrators of the crimes feel they have impunity," Gilad Grossman, a spokesperson for human rights organization Yesh Din, told Joshua Mitnick.

But this reluctance, or inability, to prosecute cases may be changing. In August, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that so-called administrative detention, long an Israeli tactic to jail Palestinian suspects without trial or access to evidence, would be used on Israeli terror suspects, as well.  

"We are determined to vigorously fight manifestations of hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side," Netanyahu said. Previously, the administration hesitated to label crimes committed by Jews as 'terrorism.' 

On November 9, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that suspects in the Duma attack had been taken into custody, but indicated that a trial could not take place until investigators could stage "a reenactment of the attack." 

After Muhammad's murder, which was condemned by Palestinian and Israeli leaders, the Israeli Defense Ministry granted his family benefits accorded to families of Jewish victims of terror attacks, and included his name in a monument to terror victims. However, the plan was scratched after outcry from Jewish victims' families and Muhammad's own relatives. 

But the Israeli government may continue making efforts to crack down on Jewish extremists, not only for Israelis' and Palestinians' safety, but to prevent further outbreaks of violence and instability.

"The kids, who are clashing on a nightly basis with the Israeli police, aren't being whipped into a frenzy by charismatic people like [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas]. What their large scale participation indicates is a sense that they have no future," lawyer Daniel Seidemann told Al Jazeera in July. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Israel finds three guilty of 2014 murder of Palestinian teen
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today