The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Sunday acquitted a far-right Jewish extremist of assaulting two left-wing activists he mistook for Palestinians sneaking into his Hebron-area settlement almost a decade ago.
Bentzi Gopstein, the longtime head of the sometimes violent anti-Arab group Lehava, was accused of assaulting Ezra Nawi and Daniel Dokorovich in August 2008.
According to the indictment, Dokorovich and Nawi were visiting the West Bank city of Hebron when they heard that residents of the Jewish enclave Givat Avot were throwing rocks at nearby Palestinian homes.
Accompanied by several Palestinians, Dokorovich and Nawi went to the enclave to ask residents to stop the stone throwing, scaling the fence separating the Israeli neighborhood from the city’s Palestinian population.
A video of the incident showed Gopstein shoving, kicking, choking and hitting Dokorovich, and shoving Nawi.
Gopstein claimed he was acting in self-defense and did not know at the time if the intruders were Palestinian terrorists seeking to attack Jewish residents.
Judge Dov Pollack accepted his defense, and in his decision said the assumption that the men Gopstein saw climbing the fence were potential Palestinian terrorists was legitimate.
Pollack went on to explain that while Gopstein’s defense was only valid if he genuinely believed the men to be Arab intruders, given the volatile nature of the city, his assumptions were justifiable.
He also noted that standing military orders prohibit local Palestinians from entering Hebron’s Jewish areas, and if the case were to be investigated further and Dokorovich and Nawi’s associates were determined to be Palestinian, they would be guilty of entering the neighborhood illegally.
Gopstein has been arrested and detained by police several times in recent years, but has never been convicted of incitement or other criminal activity related to his controversial group Lehava.
Lehava has frequently called for action to be taken against non-Jews and homosexuals in order to “save the daughters of Israel,” in Gopstein’s words.
In November 2014, three Lehava members set fire to a Jerusalem school that teaches Muslims, Christians and Jews. The group also regularly holds demonstrations in contentious areas in the capital’s Old City and in other parts of Israel with a large Arab population, and its members have been known to physically assault Arabs.
Gopstein last year wrote an article titled “To overthrow the vampires” in which he called Christians living in Israel “blood-suckers,” and has publicly called for the burning of churches.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Nawi is also seen as a polarizing figure in Israeli politics.
A prominent campaigner for Palestinian rights, Nawi was recently secretly recorded by right-wing activists describing how he helped Palestinian officials track down and possibly execute Palestinians who were considering selling land to Jews.
The footage was obtained by right-wing activists who infiltrated the Palestinian rights group Ta’ayush in an effort to discredit it.
Nawi was arrested in January at Ben-Gurion Airport as he tried to leave the country, but was released from custody several days later.
State prosecutors have yet to decide whether to accept the police recommendation and press charges against Nawi for contact with a foreign agent and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.