Court cancels jail term for woman who brandished knife in Afula
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Court cancels jail term for woman who brandished knife in Afula

Accepting appeal, Nazareth judge reduces Asra’a Zidan Abed’s 6-month prison sentence to community service for 2015 incident at bus station

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

A still image taken from cellphone footage of security forces surrounding a knife-wielding Israeli Arab woman after she allegedly tried to stab a security guard at Afula bus station on Friday, October 9, 2015.  (screen capture)
A still image taken from cellphone footage of security forces surrounding a knife-wielding Israeli Arab woman after she allegedly tried to stab a security guard at Afula bus station on Friday, October 9, 2015. (screen capture)

The Nazareth District Court commuted the sentence Tuesday of an Arab-Israeli woman who was shot in the leg by security forces when she brandished a knife at a bus station in the city of Afula two years ago, reducing her punishment from six months in jail to community service.

A police investigation into the October 2015 incident revealed that Asra’a Zidan Abed was suicidal and wanted to be shot and killed by police. After the court determined she never intended to carry out a terror attack, Abed in late 2015 was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon and sentenced to six months in jail.

On Tuesday, the court accepted Abed’s appeal challenging the jail time and reduced it to six months community service.

Abed’s lawyer Meni Albir said the new sentence more accurately reflected the crime.

“We are extremely pleased that the court accepted our appeal and we think that the decision makes an important statement. Asra’a never intended to harm anyone and the proportional punishment given by the court today reflects that,” Albir told The Times of Israel.

Police and Shin Bet investigators said at the time they believed Abed did not plan to stab anyone when she wielded the knife at the Afula station, but was pretending to be a Palestinian terrorist in the hope that she would be shot by security forces.

Earlier suspicions of mental health issues were confirmed after discovering a history of suicide attempts and hospitalizations, police said. Investigators concluded that she was trying to commit suicide following a divorce and losing custody of her child.

Police say she bought the knife shortly before boarding a bus in her hometown of Nazareth. Investigators were puzzled at why she boarded a bus with the knife but traveled the entire ride to Afula without carrying out an attack — or why she then brandished it at the Afula terminal around large numbers of police and soldiers.

A video of Abed’s tense standoff with police was widely shared at the time.

The footage, captured on a bystander’s cellphone, showed Abed brandishing a knife, but not attacking, as several armed police officers and soldiers shout at her to put the knife down. After several tense minutes, a police officer arrives at a sprint, sees the woman holding the knife and fires at her lower torso.

A security guard at the terminal initially told police he believed the woman was attacking him when she pulled the knife out of her purse while standing near him.

During the incident, Abed was moderately injured after being shot in the leg.

The incident came at the start of a spate of stabbings by Palestinian assailants across the country that continued for around six months.

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