The Jerusalem District Court handed down stiffer sentences Wednesday to two Israelis who faked a kidnapping in the West Bank four years ago that sparked a massive military operation.
The court accepted the state’s appeal for tougher sentences, sending Niv Asraf, who directed his own abduction, to prison for nine months. His friend Eran Ngauker, who helped stage the act, was sentenced to six months of community service.
Asraf’s attorney, Moti Yosef, said the sentence will be appealed and hoped the Supreme Court would quash the jail time.
“I think the District Court made a mistake,” Yosef said. “I do not understand what the public interest here is in jailing a guy who took responsibility from the start. This event took place four years ago. He should be released and given a chance.”
The two were convicted under a plea bargain and sentenced last June to community service and ordered to pay fines for the hoax kidnapping in the West Bank in 2015 that sparked a massive search and rescue operation.
At the time, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court had ordered Asraf, who pretended to be abducted, to perform six months of community service and pay a NIS 5,000 ($1,386) fine. His accomplice Nagauker, who reported Asraf’s disappearance to police, was given three months of community service and a NIS 2,500 ($693) penalty.
As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped the more serious charge of fraud, which could have carried a maximum sentence of five years.
In its ruling on Wednesday, the court found the circumstances of the case to be “extremely exceptional and severe. The actions of the defendants endangered the security forces, who were forced to search a dangerous area” where the bodies of three Israeli high school students kidnapped and murdered by Hamas had been found only a few months before.
The judge wrote that the “grave circumstances” justified a more severe punishment.
Nagauker called police just after 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, 2015, and reported that Asraf had entered the Palestinian village of Beit Anun, near Hebron, and had not returned. Police and IDF troops launched a massive manhunt in the area to try and locate Asraf, only to discover his “disappearance” was a hoax.
According to the account given to Israeli emergency services by Nagauker on the day of the incident, the two men got a flat tire while driving on the road between the settlement of Kiryat Arba and Beit Anun.
Asraf went to get tools to fix the flat from the nearby Palestinian village and disappeared, Nagauker claimed.
The hoax report, centering on the same area of the West Bank where three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered less than a year before, sent hundreds of soldiers, police and agents of the Shin Bet security agency hammering on the doors of frightened Palestinian villagers as they searched house to house in the Hebron district.
However, Asraf was found safe and sound in a nearby valley with a sleeping bag and some canned food. Police quickly concluded the event was a prank and a massive waste of resources.
During the search, a thousand soldiers were scrambled, special units were deployed and aircraft were dispatched. In some cases stones were hurled at security forces, prosecutors said.
According to court papers, Asraf initially claimed he had arranged the fake abduction to try and woo back his ex-girlfriend, but further investigation found he was trying to disappear from criminal underworld figures after running up tens of thousands of shekels in debt from illegal gambling.