Two Israelis who staged a hoax kidnapping in the West Bank in 2015, leading to a massive search and rescue operation, were sentenced Sunday to community service and ordered to pay fines.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered Niv Asraf to perform six months of community service and pay a NIS 5,000 ($1,386) fine, while his accomplice Eran Nagauker was given three months of community service and a NIS 2,500 ($693) penalty.
Asraf, who pretended to be abducted, and Nagauker, who helped report his disappearance to police, were convicted under a plea bargain.
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, the court found “the defendants committed grave crimes and exploited two of the most prominent characteristics of Israeli society: First, the regrettable need to deal with the constant security threat posed to society and its members by Israel’s enemies. Second, the value of the mutual guarantee of society, expressed in the willingness to help others in distress, even at the cost of risk to life and body, even if it requires the use of general resources.”
Prosecutors had asked for jail time for the two, citing the cost of the search and rescue operation as well as the danger to security forces who participated in the efforts.
Following the sentencing, the prosecution asked that the punishments be delayed for 45 days, a request the court agreed to, the Hebrew language Ynet website reported. Prosecutors have six weeks to appeal the sentencing from the moment the pair, both from the southern city of Beersheba and in their twenties, actually begin their community service.
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 hadn’t returned. Police officers 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 Arab 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 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.
Channel 10 television reported that the two are still facing a civil lawsuit by the Defense Ministry and Israeli police for NIS 625,000 “for financial damage caused to the state due to the defendants’ conduct.”