Police have released the chilling testimony of the prime suspect in the murder of Arab teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on July 2.
“We were hot-headed and angry and we determined to burn something of the Arabs,” Yosef Haim Ben-David told police in his investigation, saying watching the funerals July 1 of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank on June 12 – Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach — had sparked the decision.
Ben-David was indicted for the murder in mid-July along with two accomplices, both minors. The indictment said that the three suspects went on “a human hunt,” during which they “cruelly kidnapped and murdered the minor Muhammed Abu Khdeir simply for being an Arab.”
Ben-David, 29, is a resident of the West Bank settlement of Adam and owns an eyewear store in Jerusalem. His lawyers have sought to declare him temporarily insane. The other two suspects are 16 years old — one from Jerusalem, the other from Beit Shemesh. According to the indictment, Ben-David and one of the minors have a history of mental illness and are presently on medication.
Two of the defendants were also charged with the attempted kidnapping of a seven-year-old Palestinian boy in Beit Hanina, Moussa Zaloum, the night before the killing, attempted arson, and the torching of a Palestinian store in the West Bank village of Hizme in June.
A day before the murder, the three made the first attempt at an abduction, attacking the seven-year-old Zaloum and his mother as they strolled down the street in East Jerusalem with a baby carriage.
“We decided to beat her up,” Ben-David said. One of his friends grabbed the child and choked him, then punched his mother in the face. The three then ran away, but decided to make another attempt the next evening.
Security camera footage gathered by police shows the suspects fill bottles with gasoline at a gas station in the West Bank, north of Jerusalem.
Ben-David said he and his two alleged accomplices had first planned to burn an Arab store in the city but then “decided to raise the bar.”
“We said ‘they took three of ours, let’s take one of their’s,’” he explained. “We decided to pick someone up, kidnap him, beat the hell out of him and throw him out.”
The suspects were identified in the camera footage of a small supermarket buying energy drinks, after having removed their kippahs and switched their traditional religious garb for secular-looking clothing.
The three suspects then drove around looking for a target, eventually spotting Abu Khdeir sitting alone outside.
“This one we can overpower,” Ben-David told his two accomplices, who went out of the car and asked the teen for directions. “He didn’t really answer and didn’t speak Hebrew too well, said ‘straight and to the right.’
Ben-David noted that Abu Khdeir appeared to become suspicious, stood up and began dialing on his phone. A this point Ben-David’s two friends hit the teen and grabbed him, dragging him to the car while covering his mouth to prevent him from crying out.
“The guy tried to fight and stretched out his leg to prevent us closing the door” but was forced in nonetheless, Ben-David said. “He began shouting Allahu Akbar [God is Great] and cursed…I didn’t believe it was really happening at that moment. A this point Yud [one of the suspects, identified only by the first letter of his name due to being a minor] choked the guy’s throat and I shouted to him ‘finish him, finish him, kill him.’ The guy started gurgling, eventually he stopped fighting.”
Ben-David and the other two suspects then decided to drive to the Jerusalem Forest “to get rid of him.”
“I told Yud to press hard and finish him because those people have seven lives. Don’t let him get up,” he said.
The group came to a stop in the forest and Ben-David turned off the car lights. The unconscious Abu Khdeir was removed from the vehicle and thrown to the ground. Ben-David then took an iron bar and struck the teen repeatedly on the head.
“I hit the guy in the head with the bar while saying ‘This is for the Fogel family [a family of five murdered in the settlement of Itamar in 2011], this is for Shalhevet Pas [a baby girl murdered by a sniper in Hebron in 2001],'” Ben-David recounted.
The three suspects then poured gasoline over Abu Khdeir, who according to a coroner’s report was likely still alive at the time. “I kicked the guy three times in the legs, and said while I kicked, ‘This is for Eyal, and this is for Naftali and this is for — I don’t remember the third one’s name, maybe Gil-ad.”
“I took out a lighter and set the guy on fire…and everything was alight,” he said. “The purpose wasn’t god forbid to burn [him]…we heard a noise and we were afraid he’d gotten up so we decided to kill, to get rid of him.
Ben-David said the three later spoke about the murder and regretted their actions. “We’re not like the sons of Ishmael [meaning Arabs]… We’re Jews. We have a heart.
“I told them: ‘I’ll tell you the truth, we had a purpose but this is not for us. We were wrong. We are merciful Jews. We are human beings.'”
Yifa Yaakov contributed to this report.