Brothers take plea deal for arson at bilingual school
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Brothers take plea deal for arson at bilingual school

Charges of hate crime, support for terror group dropped against 2 of 3 suspects in November attack on Jerusalem institution

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014.  (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two of the three men charged with torching a bilingual school in November have accepted plea deals offered by the Jerusalem district attorney, Ynet news reported Tuesday.

The accused, Yitzhak Gabai and brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twitto, were indicted in December for starting a fire on November 29 at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem and spray-painting on the school’s walls racist messages such as “There is no coexistence with cancer”; “Death to the Arabs”; and “Kahane was right,” a reference to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mentor of the Jewish ultra-nationalist movement.

The school fosters Jewish-Arab coexistence and teaches in both Arabic and Hebrew. The attack drew condemnation from politicians across the spectrum, and hundreds rallied in support of the school in the days following the attack.

The trio were charged with arson, vandalism, incitement to racism, incitement to violence and supporting a terror organization. The three range in age from 18 to 22.

Suspected arsonists set fire to a bilingual Jewish-Arabic school in Jerusalem, November 29, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Suspected arsonists set fire to a bilingual Jewish-Arabic school in Jerusalem, November 29, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The terrorist organization in question is Lehava, a group the three suspects belong to, which works to prevent intermarriage and coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

The district attorney, according to Ynet news, will take back the charges against Nahman Twitto of supporting a terror organization, of inciting racism and will not designate his actions as a hate crime. In exchange, he will plead guilty to charges of arson, vandalism and incitement to violence.

The charges against his brother, Shlomo Twitto, of breaking and entering will be dropped, but he’ll plead guilty to arson and vandalism.

Gabbai, however, who is being represented by attorneys Itamar Ben Gvir and Avichai Hajbi, has refused the plea deal.

The Shin Bet security service reported in December that the three had confessed to the crimes and added that the suspects had claimed they attacked the school in order to “raise the issue of objection to coexistence and intermarriage to the top of the public and media’s agenda.”

Ben Gvir and Hajbi said at the time the confessions the three gave were coerced and would not be admissible in a trial.

“We met with suspects five days after the the Shin Bet interrogation and found that they had been abused severely, deprived of sleep, causing them emotional distress,” they said, joking that under the extreme duress of their interrogation, they would even have confessed to the unsolved murder of Haim Arlozorov in 1933.

Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein said in December that his organization does not act illegally and accused the Shin Bet in a statement of trying to frame Lehava to thwart its “holy work of saving the daughters of Israel.”

Shlomo Twitto’s attorney, public defender Ofer Ashkenazi, said, “My client decided to accept a plea deal from the prosecution and admits to the amended indictment and will send the case for review before the sentencing hearing.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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