The trial of seven residents of an Arab Israeli village indicted on charges stemming from the lynching of a Jewish terrorist in 2005 ended on Monday with all seven acquitted of attempted murder by the Haifa District Court but several convicted of lesser charges.
All seven defendants were acquitted of attempted murder charges. Four of the suspects were found guilty of attempted manslaughter, two were convicted of aggravated assault and one defendant was acquitted of all charges.
Around 1,000 Shfaram residents and others rallied in Haifa ahead of the trial, calling for the release of the accused. Security forces were deployed in nearby Shfaram, which was largely shut down due to the protests, and in other Galilee locations, for fear of rioting after the verdict.
On August 4, 2005, in advance of the withdrawal from Gaza, an AWOL IDF soldier, Eden Natan Zada, opened fire on a public bus traveling through an Arab village, killing four Israeli Arabs – Michael Bachus, Nader Khaik and the sisters Hazar and Dina Turki – and wounding 22 before he was subdued and beaten to death by the other passengers. He killed his victims, the Haifa Municipal Court judges wrote, “simply because they were Arabs.”
After the killing spree, and with Zada handcuffed and in police custody on the bus, the crowd prevented Israeli police from defending Zada and pummeled him for an hour, until long after he was dead. Later, as part of a massive police investigation, 12 Shfaram residents were arrested.
Seven of them were put on trial and charged with attempted murder, attempted manslaughter, aggravated assault on a police officer, interference with an officer performing his duty and rioting.
“The feelings of the people of Shfaram and the Arab sector are not good,” Shfaram Deputy Mayor Kamal Shahdeen told Ynet News on Monday morning. “We feel deprived. Unfortunately, the State of Israel is judging these people, who would have been killed if they hadn’t defended themselves,” he added.
Zada, traveling on the 165 line from Haifa to Shfaram, opened fire in the direction of the driver at 5:28 p.m., according to the three-judge panel’s verdict. By 5:43 p.m. he had been stripped of his weapon and taken into police custody. The police officers at the scene, however, were unable to escort the killer through the increasingly furious crowd and were forced to retreat with a bloody and wounded prisoner back to the bus.
Superintendent Eliyahu Fuchs, the police commander of the Shfaram region, called the confrontation “a war” and said that the assault against the murderer, which included rocks and metal bars and a flammable liquid thrown onto the bus, went “on for an eternity.”
Piecing together what exactly happened and assigning blame to specific individuals, the judges wrote, was “very complex, on account of the number of the accused, the length of time that elapsed between the incident and the summoning of the witnesses to testify, and the course of events themselves, which created among most of the prosecution’s witnesses a sense of grave distress and even mortal danger.”
The court rejected the defense’s arguments — and those put forth by many Arab citizens of Israel in recent days — that Jews who kill Arab terrorists after the fact have never before been brought to trial. “We determined that no factual infrastructure exists to back that claim,” they wrote.
The court rejected the assertion that such was the case in the Bus 300 incident, in which two Arab terrorists, in April 1984, were executed in the field after being taken into custody. “The pardon is what prevented them from being brought to trial,” the judges wrote about the pre-trial pardon given to Shin Bet security service commander Avraham Shalom and four other officers. “The necessity of the pardon teaches us that in lieu of the pardon they would have been brought to trial.”
Nonetheless, the emotional turmoil at the scene of Zada’s terror attack was sufficient grounds to dismiss all charges of murder or attempted murder, the judges ruled.
In their 465-page verdict the judges quoted Sir Francis Bacon’s “On Revenge” in explaining the convictions on lesser charges. “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.”