2 Palestinians indicted for terror slaying of Israeli man

Suspects stabbed Reuven Schmerling to ‘avenge’ their friend, who was killed while attempting a terror attack, Shin Bet says

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Reuven Schmerling, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Elkana, who was murdered and his body discovered in a storage facility in the Israeli Arab town of Kafr Qassem, October 4, 2017. (Courtesy)
Reuven Schmerling, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Elkana, who was murdered and his body discovered in a storage facility in the Israeli Arab town of Kafr Qassem, October 4, 2017. (Courtesy)

Two Palestinians who allegedly stabbed to death Reuven Schmerling in the Israeli city of Kafr Qassem earlier this month were motivated by a desire to “avenge” their friend, who had been killed while attempting to carry out a stabbing attack in 2015, the Shin Bet security service said.

On Sunday, Youssef Khaled Mustafa Kamil, 20, and Muhammad Ziad Abu al-Rub, 19, of the West Bank city of Qabatiya, were indicted for premeditated murder and entering Israel illegally in a Central District court.

Schmerling’s body was discovered by police on October 4 near his coal storage unit in Kafr Qassem’s industrial zone. He had been stabbed dozens of times.

It was initially unclear if the murder was a terror attack, but in the days that followed the Shin Bet announced that it was believed to have been nationalistically motivated — though it would not elaborate due to a court-issued gag order.

With Kamil and al-Rub’s indictment on Sunday, the court lifted the gag order, allowing for information about the case, including the suspects’ names, to be published.

Police gather at the crime scene in Kafr Qassem where Reuven Schmerling was found murdered, on October 4, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

According to the Shin Bet, the two Palestinians are believed to have been motivated to carry out the attack on Schmerling by the death in November 2015 of a friend, shot dead while trying to stab Israeli troops at a West Bank checkpoint.

The assessment was based on the suspects’ interrogations, the Shin Bet said.

In addition, Kamil and al-Rub had been “watching videos of violent clashes between Muslim women and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the state prosecutors said in the indictment.

Police at the scene where Reuven Schmerling from the settlement of Elkana was found dead at the industrial zone in Kafr Qassem, October 4, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The two men did not have work permits that allowed them to enter Israel, but nevertheless traveled to Kafr Qassem in late September in order to work at Schmerling’s coal storage facility illegally.

According to the indictment, Kamil entered Israel not only to work but also “to carry out a nationalistically motivated stabbing attack and kill Jews for being Jews.”

Kamil asked al-Rub to take part, but was initially rebuffed, but on October 2, he asked again and al-Rub agreed to carry out the attack.

The next day, they bought a butcher’s knife with a black handle. They chose Schmerling to be their victim due to work disputes and general antipathy toward him, according to the indictment.

Just before 10 a.m. on October 4, the day before the start of the Sukkot festival, Schmerling knocked on the door of a room in the storage facility where they lived. When the two men answered the door, he told them they were “only good for sleeping and eating” and asked Kamil to load a large battery into his car, according to the charge sheet.

When Kamil walked back into the storage facility, he allegedly conspired with al-Rub to carry out the stabbing attack and organized their escape route.

Half an hour later, they lured Schmerling into their room by telling him their refrigerator wasn’t working. As al-Rub spoke with him, Kamil allegedly took out the knife and began stabbing Schmerling in the back and then in the stomach.

Al-Rub, meanwhile, ran out and brought back a pickaxe, which he also allegedly used to attack Schmerling, the indictment said.

The 69-year-old Israeli man, from the nearby Elkana settlement, fought back, hitting Kamil in the leg with a chair, but he was overpowered, the charge sheet said.

Mourners attend the funeral of Reuben Schmerling in the West Bank settlement of Elkana on October 6, 2017. (Dani Sitron)

During the attack Schmerling sustained wounds to the back, chest, stomach, head, arms and legs, according to the indictment.

His body was found later that day in one of the business’s storage units by his son, who alerted police and emergency services.

After the attack, Kamil and al-Rub showered and changed their cloths, ditched the weapons they’d allegedly used and traveled back to Qabatiya, according to the indictment.

Last week, the IDF announced that it was preparing to raze the home of one of the two terrorists — due to the gag order, the army did not specify whom.

The practice of demolishing the family homes of terrorists has been criticized by nongovernmental groups, but Israeli officials have defended its use as a deterrent against future attacks.

In a statement, the IDF also said Sunday that soldiers had been operating regularly in Qabatiya, Kamil and al-Rub’s hometown, over the past month in order to collect evidence for the case and arrest people close to the suspects.

“IDF troops in Judea and Samaria will continue their efforts in order to thwart terror acts against Israeli civilians and allow the residents to conduct their daily routines peacefully,” the army said.

In a statement, Schmerling’s family thanked security forces and prosecutors for their “excellect work” in quickly bringing an indictment.

“We are confident and assured that the court will do justice and we hope with all our might our father will be the last Jew to be murdered for being Jewish,” the family said.

While thanking prosecutors and security forces, the head of the Elkana Regional Council called for more to be done to crack down on Palestinians illegally entering Israel.

“We expect the security forces to act with more determination so the entrance of illegal workers will end completely and the [West Bank] crossings will be closely monitored,” said Assaf Mintzer.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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