Accomplice in Arab teen’s killing says main suspect pressured him

Yosef Haim Ben-David, accused of masterminding attack on Abu Khdeir, refuses to testify; victim’s friends protest outside court

Police escort Yosef Haim Ben-David, one of the Jewish suspects in the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, in the District Court in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Police escort Yosef Haim Ben-David, one of the Jewish suspects in the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, in the District Court in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Two of the three suspects on trial in the brutal killing of Palestinian teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir last summer began testifying in Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday morning, almost a year after they were indicted.

The principal defendant, Yosef Haim Ben-David, refused to testify, invoking his right to remain silent. His lawyer has consistently insisted his client is insane and unfit for trial.

One of Ben-David’s two alleged accomplices, whose identities have been withheld because they are minors, was the first to take the stand. He attributed his part in the killing to his emotional dependence on Ben-David, who he said acted as a father to him after his own father beat and disowned him the previous year.

He described how, after the killing of the three Israeli teenagers at the hands of Hamas activists in the West Bank last June, Ben-David had told him they had to act.

The home of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Shuafat, Jerusalem, July 8, 2014 (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
The home of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Shuafat, Jerusalem (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

“When [Ben-David] picked me up at my home, he told me we had to do something — a price tag attack, avenge God’s honor. It was hard for me to say no to him,” the minor said. “A war was going on in my heart. I was afraid to do something, but on the other hand I also couldn’t say no to him.”

The kidnapping and killing of Abu Khdeir, 16, from Shuafat in East Jerusalem, took place a day after the burial of the three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.

The three defendants allegedly forced Abu Khdeir into a car and drove him to a forest, where they burned him to death.

Friends of Abu Khdeir stood outside the court building holding photographs of him during Wednesday’s hearing.

Abu Khdeir’s killing, which sparked violent protests in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, drew widespread condemnation in Israel, including from the families of the three slain Jewish teenagers, who offered their condolences to the Abu Khdeir family.

When the minor finished testifying, the victim’s father, Hussein Abu Khdeir, shouted from his seat in the courtroom, “You’re a liar!”

Later, outside the building, Abu Khdeir said that the accomplice’s testimony had been nothing but “theater.”

Hussein Abu Khdeir, the father of the slain Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir, outside his home in East Jerusalem, October 21, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Hussein Abu Khdeir, the father of the slain Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“It’s all a lie. Not a word of it is true,” he said. “This is destroying us. [Muhammed’s] mother cries. They burned the boy, and they burned us.”

As to Ben-David’s claim of insanity, he said, “In the State of Israel, anyone who kills an Arab is crazy. He worked and had a life, and now he’s crazy?”

Ben-David was indicted for the murder of Abu Khdeir in mid-July along with two accomplices, both minors. The indictment said that the three went on “a manhunt” during which they “cruelly kidnapped and murdered the minor Muhammed Abu Khdeir simply for being an Arab.”

Ben-David, who was 29 when he was indicted, is a resident of the West Bank settlement of Adam and owns an eyewear store in Jerusalem. The other two suspects, from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, were 16 years old when they were indicted. 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 as well as attempted arson and the torching of a Palestinian store in the West Bank village of Hizme in June 2014.

Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.

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