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Israeli man handed life in prison for grisly murder of East Jerusalem teen

Yosef Haim Ben David, convicted of kidnapping and burning Muhammed Abu Khdeir, apologizes to family, says it ‘wasn’t under my control’; relatives call for death penalty

Yosef Haim Ben-David, center, the ringleader in the killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir last year, is escorted by Israeli policemen at the district court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2016.  (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Yosef Haim Ben-David, center, the ringleader in the killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir last year, is escorted by Israeli policemen at the district court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2016. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

An Israeli court handed down a life sentence, plus 20 years in jail, to a Jewish man found to be the ringleader of a group that beat and burned alive a Palestinian teenager in a grisly 2014 revenge killing.

There was a loud uproar in Jerusalem District Court when Yosef Haim Ben David’s sentence was announced. The family of the victim, Muhammed Abu Khdeir, shouted at him: “You deserve the death sentence,” Channel 10 reported.

Relatives of the victim also screamed “racist, die, Nazi,” the Walla news website reported.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Ben David, plus 20 years for his kidnapping and an additional 15 years for other crimes.

Abu Khdeir, 16, was kidnapped near his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat and killed on July 1, 2014, two days after it emerged that three Israeli teens who had been abducted several weeks earlier in the West Bank were killed by their Palestinian kidnappers shortly after they were grabbed.

“This is an evil and cruel man who does not represent our civilized society,” state prosecutor Uri Korb said at the hearing, adding that the killing “brought shame upon our society and offended our values.”

Ben David apologized for his actions in court on Tuesday, Walla news reported, saying, “I request forgiveness from the family for what happened; it wasn’t under my control. That’s not my character and I am not that kind of man.”

He added that he volunteered for the ZAKA rescue service, which collects body parts of victims of violent deaths for burial, saying he did so for both Jews and Arabs.

Palestinian protesters hold placards depicting portraits of Muhammed Abu Khdeir outside the Jerusalem District Court on May 3, 2016 as they await the verdict in the case of Yosef Haim Ben David, the ringleader in the killing of the Palestinian teenager last year. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinian protesters hold placards depicting portraits of Muhammed Abu Khdeir outside the Jerusalem District Court on May 3, 2016 as they await the verdict in the case of Yosef Haim Ben David, the ringleader in the killing of the Palestinian teenager last year. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Outside the courthouse, dozens of women held up placards with pictures of Abu Khdeir as they awaited the verdict.

Ben David was also ordered by the court to pay the Abu Khdeir family NIS 150,000 ($39,000) in damages.

He was also ordered to pay a Palestinian family whose child he attempted to kidnap before abducting Abu Khdeir a sum of NIS 20,000 ($5,000).

Abu Khdeir’s father Hussein, speaking ahead of the verdict, said no punishment would be enough.

“Whatever they decide, our wounds will not heal — the boy will not come back,” he told AFP.

Ben David, a Jerusalem resident, was convicted of murder by the Jerusalem District Court last month, after judges rejected a last-minute claim that he suffered from mental illness.

“The court has found that at the time he committed the offense, the accused was not psychotic, fully understood the facts, was responsible for his actions, had no difficulty in understanding reality and had the capacity to prevent the crime,” a statement from the Justice Ministry said.

After he was convicted, Ben David’s father accused the prosecution of ignoring the state of his son’s mental health and dismissing expert opinion from overseas.

“We just know that the prosecution and others did everything, everything possible in order to indict. [My son] is sick all the time, they didn’t take that into account, they didn’t care. We brought in experts from the United States who gave their opinions [on his mental health] and they ignored it,” he said.

Ben David’s defense team has indicated it plans to appeal after the sentencing.

The home of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Shuafat, Jerusalem, July 8, 2014 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
The home of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Shuafat, Jerusalem, July 8, 2014 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Two other killers — both minors — were sentenced to life in prison and 21 years, respectively. The first, aged 17, was convicted of actively helping in Abu Khdeir’s kidnap-murder. He was sentenced to life for helping to pour gasoline on the teen before he was set alight and ordered to pay NIS 35,000 in reparations to the Abu Khdeir family.

The second, aged 16, was found guilty of helping the 17-year-old and Ben David kill the boy, received a 21-year sentence and was ordered to pay NIS 30,000 in reparations.

The stiff sentences are rare for minors. Israeli law forbids identifying minors convicted of crimes.

Last month’s sentencing came amid an ongoing crackdown on Jewish terror following last summer’s fatal torching of a Palestinian home by suspected Jewish radicals.

Israel charged Amiram Ben-Uliel and a minor over the 2015 attack in the West Bank village of Duma, in which a Palestinian toddler and his parents were killed. The sole surviving member of the family, 5-year-old Ahmed Dawabsha, remains hospitalized in Israel as he slowly recovers from severe burns.

Several extreme right-wing Israeli settlers, including alleged ringleader Meir Ettinger, have been detained without charge since the deadly attack on the Dawabsha family home.

Under administrative detention — an anti-terror measure more commonly used for Palestinian security prisoners — a detainee can be held for six months without being charged or tried. The order can be renewed indefinitely in six-month increments.

Jewish extremists are also suspected of attacking Palestinians, torching homes and cars, and vandalizing mosques and churches in the West Bank and Israel.

Legal proceedings against right-wing Jewish extremists are being closely watched at a time of renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions. A deadly wave of Palestinian stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks targeting Israelis began last year.

Twenty-nine Israelis and four non-Israelis have been killed since October. Some 200 Palestinians have also been killed, about two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.

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