Israeli teen charged with killing Palestinian woman to be freed to house arrest

Lod judge says despite severity of crime and ‘highly likely conviction,’ suspect can move to grandparents’ home in Kfar Saba given young age and psychological profile

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

The Israeli teen (L) suspected of killing Aisha Rabi in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on January 23, 2019. (YouTube/Screen capture)
The Israeli teen (L) suspected of killing Aisha Rabi in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on January 23, 2019. (YouTube/Screen capture)

A court on Tuesday okayed an Israeli teen charged with killing a Palestinian woman in a West Bank stoning attack last October to be released to house arrest.

The 16-year-old suspect — who cannot be named because of privacy laws protecting minors — has been in a juvenile detention facility for the past four months after allegedly hurling a stone at that crashed through a vehicle’s windshield, striking and killing Aisha Rabi, a 47-year-old mother of eight.

Barring an appeal from the prosecution, the Lod District Court decision will go into effect next Tuesday. In the coming days, parole officers were ordered to inspect the home of the suspect’s grandparents in the central city of Kfar Saba to ensure its suitability as a place for him to serve house arrest.

The suspect will be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet; be under the 24/7 supervision of two adult family guardians; and have no contact whatsoever with non-family members.

Judge Haggai Tarsi said he recognized the severity of the crime, highlighting that the teen likely faced a conviction given that his DNA was found on the stone that killed Rabi.

However, he said the court was required to consider detention alternatives due to the suspect’s young age, as well as the various psychiatric assessments conducted by state authorities over the past several months that found the teen to be psychologically stable.

A car belonging to a Palestinian couple is seen after it was involved in a deadly crash reportedly due to stone-throwing by Israeli settlers at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank on October 12, 2018. (Zachariah Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights); Aisha Muhammad Talal Rabi (Courtesy)

Responding to the decision, the suspect’s lawyer Ariel Atari said it “represented an expression of the weakness of the evidence against my client, which we have claimed from day one.”

The attorney from the right-wing Honenu legal aid organization asserted that the DNA evidence on its own was proven to be insufficient grounds for keeping his client behind bars and cited the state psychiatric assessments that found the suspect to be “intellectually outstanding and opposed to any discrimination of any kind.”

Rabi’s late husband Yakoub appeared less concerned with Tuesday’s ruling, stressing in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel that “what is important is that justice is achieved at the end of the day.”

A spokeswoman for State Prosecutor’s Office said her office was considering appealing the decision, highlighting the judge’s own admission that the danger posed by the suspect remains at “high to

The killing of Rabi was the most serious incident of suspected Jewish terror since the 2015 firebombing of a Palestinian home in Duma in the northern West Bank.

The suspect, a student at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim, was charged with manslaughter, aggravated stone throwing at a moving vehicle, and intentional sabotage of a vehicle. Each of the charges is connected to the killing of Rabi and was qualified as having been carried out “in the context of a terrorist act.”

If convicted, the suspect could face considerable jail time; a manslaughter terrorism conviction alone carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars. Due to apparent limits imposed on prosecutors by the available evidence, the suspect avoided murder charges, which would have put him at risk of a life sentence.

Last month, leaked court documents revealed that the suspect claimed that the DNA evidence tying him to the crime could have been residue from when he spat or urinated while taking walks through the West Bank.

“I smoke which causes me to spit a lot. I may have spat and (the saliva) fell on a stone, or maybe once in the last year and a half  — during which I hiked and worked a great deal in the fields (of the northern West Bank) — I urinated on some rock or maybe I cut myself on a rock while collecting wood… I don’t know, maybe some crazy person picked up that rock and killed an Arab,” he argued.

The comments came shortly after prosecutors announced they intended to indict him, after he had refused to speak to interrogators for two weeks after his arrest.

Aisha and Yakoub Rabi and their daughters (Courtesy)

According to the charge sheet, the suspect departed from the Pri Haaretz yeshiva accompanied by several other students late on the evening of October 12, a Friday.

The group arrived at a hilltop between the Rehelim Junction and the Tapuah Junction, overlooking Route 60 — the West Bank’s main north-south artery. The suspect then grabbed a large rock weighing roughly two kilograms (4.4 pounds) and hurled it at a Palestinian vehicle, “out of an ideological motive of racism and hostility toward Arabs everywhere,” the indictment stated.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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