Family fumes as prosecutor won’t seek death for convicted Halamish killer
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Family fumes as prosecutor won’t seek death for convicted Halamish killer

Salomon relatives say they were 'toyed with' after Liberman called on judges to 'show courage' but admitted he had no right to tell them what to do

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Omar al-Abed (center) is brought to the courtroom for his trial at the Ofer military court near the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Omar al-Abed (center) is brought to the courtroom for his trial at the Ofer military court near the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Relatives of Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon, who were stabbed to death in the Halamish settlement in July, on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of “toying with them” by making false pledges that they would advance legislation sanctioning the death penalty for terrorists.

Omar al-Abed, 19, was convicted Wednesday on three counts of murder, two counts of attempted aggravated manslaughter, and one count of incitement, in addition to various other charges for the gruesome murder carried out as the family celebrated the birth of a baby on Shabbat.

The Military Advocate General recommended four life sentences for al-Abed.

“They toyed with us. They talked and talked and not a thing was done,” said Rachel Menzali, one of Yosef Salomon’s surviving daughters, at the Ofer Military Court near Ramallah after the hearing. “During the shiva, the prime minister and the defense minister told us explicitly that they would advance this [the death penalty for terrorists], but apparently they don’t really want to.”

Surviving daughters of Yosef Salomon, Orit Marcus (right) and Rachel Menzali, address reporters after the sentencing hearing for Omar al-Abed at the Ofer Military Court on December 27, 2017. (Screen capture/Twitter)

While the Military Advocate General gave his recommendation for sentencing, the army said that a decision would be made on a later date.

Prior to the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Liberman called for al-Abed to receive  the death penalty.

“Today the sentence of a terrorist who murdered in cold blood three members of the Salomon family in the Halamish settlement will be declared. A death sentence is the only appropriate punishment for such a lowly act,” Liberman tweeted. “I call on the judges to show courage and impose a death sentence on the terrorist. Jewish blood is not free. There is no place for terrorists, not even in a prison.”

However, the Military Advocate General’s office, which is trying the case in an IDF court, said that capital punishment is not Israeli policy, despite it being permissible under law.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party made a death penalty for terrorists one of its central platforms in the 2015 election.

The legislation it is currently advancing in the Knesset would apply to those convicted of fatal acts of terrorism, based on the Israeli legal definition. In light of the existing law, a Yisrael Beytenu spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel, the death penalty would extend to Palestinians convicted of killing IDF soldiers as well as civilians.

Only one person has ever been sentenced to death by a standing Israeli court: Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.

Though it has only ever been used in Eichmann’s case in 1962, the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the military law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank.

Previous Israeli governments, including those run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have rejected the death penalty bill. The Yisrael Beytenu proposal was most recently voted down by lawmakers in 2015, at Netanyahu’s orders, 94-6 (the six being Yisrael Beytenu lawmakers).

On Sunday, Shin Bet security service head Nadav Argaman told lawmakers he opposed the death penalty for attackers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara console relatives of the three members of the Salomon family who were killed in a terror attack in Halamish on July 22, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also reportedly come out against capital punishment, arguing that it would not serve to dissuade terrorists from carrying out attacks, as they generally commit them with the assumption that they won’t survive.

The Salomon sisters were unimpressed with Liberman’s statements, saying that “what the defense minister really needs to do is to pick up the phone and call the military prosecutor to stop the trial and request a death sentence.”

Liberman seemed to chide the Salomon family in a tweet that followed their statements criticizing him. “Israel is a civilized country. Just as the justice minister cannot instruct the State Attorney’s Office and the Supreme Court justices how to rule, I, the defense minister, am not entitled to instruct military judges and military prosecutors,” he wrote.

(L-R) Yosef, Elad and Chaya Salomon who were stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in the Halamish settlement on July 21, 2017. (Courtesy)

Nevertheless, he concluded his tweet urging “the judges to impose the death penalty on the terrorist!”

In prepared remarks ahead of the hearing, the Salomon family said the death penalty was the only acceptable punishment for al-Abed.

“Michal [the widow of Elad Salomon] spoke of the smiling face of the murderer she saw when he broke into the house. A joyous face indicating that this is not someone who believes he is going to fulfill a difficult duty, but a passionate man who hastens to satisfy his lust,” wrote Michal Salomon’s father Dan Landa, who is representing her. “If the bullet from the soldier’s gun had not stopped him, we would be standing in front of 10 graves today.”

On July 21, al-Abed, from the nearby village of Kobar, climbed over the Halamish settlement’s fence with a simple disguise, a butcher’s knife and bottles of water to purify himself. He tripped the sensors on the fence, but avoided detection.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 24, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Inside the settlement, he performed some kind of ablution ceremony with the water. It was a Friday night and he was wearing a white shirt, similar to the type worn by Orthodox Jews for Shabbat. A few minutes after breaking into the settlement, he knocked on the door of the Salomon family’s house, knife in hand.

When the door opened, he stabbed to death three members of the family: patriarch Yosef Salomon, 70, and two of his children, Chaya, 46, and Elad, 36. The bloody rampage was only cut short when a neighbor and his son, who was serving in an elite IDF unit, heard the screams. The son grabbed his gun and shot the terrorist in the gut, incapacitating him.

Al-Abed arrived at the Ofer military court on Thursday smiling, relatives of the Salomon family said in disgust.

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