An American-born Israeli Jew, a settler who killed two Palestinians and wounded two Israelis, was convicted Wednesday on two counts of first degree murder and a string of other hate crimes, including attempted murder and incitement to violence.
The Jerusalem District Court rejected psychiatric testimony on behalf of the defendant and found that Jack Tytell was legally responsible for the 10 crimes he had confessed to and therefore “has no defense” in the insanity plea submitted by his lawyers.
Judge Moshe Drori, the author of the decision, rejected claims that Tytell was delusional and had acted on the orders of angels, as his lawyers claimed. Citing Tytell’s police interrogation transcript, in which Tytell said he had come to Israel primarily to “revenge the deaths of Jews at the hands of our Arab enemies,” Drori noted that the defendant did not claim to have come on account of “a signal from God or an angel, neither in dreams nor in day dreams.”
He later noted in the 99-page ruling that Tytell chose to spare a child in 1997 and instead murdered what he felt was a more appropriate victim. “This is near positive proof that the angel theory didn’t exist and never was created,” Drori wrote in the unanimous decision.
Tytell, a 40 year-old native of Florida, committed his first murder as an American tourist living in Israel.
In May 1997, the court noted dryly, the “defendant decided to kill an Arab.” Tytell stopped a taxi driven by Samir Akram Balbisi of east Jerusalem and, after asking him to pull over, shot him in the back of the head, killing him.
Three months later he decided to kill again. He rented a car in Jerusalem, drove to the south Hebron town of Susiya and, after seeing a flock of goats, looked for a victim. He rejected a Palestinian child in the area, telling police investigators later that killing children was “not the American way.” Moments later he encountered Issa Jabarin, 57. He called him over to the car and shot him twice in the chest. Jabarin died of his wounds.
The police found that Tytell had lied about his address when renting the car and that the Fiat Punto had been seen in the precise vicinity of Jabarin’s murder, Yedioth Ahronoth reported in 2009. In addition, he had lied about his whereabouts and left for the US on a one-way ticket three days after the murder. Nonetheless, the police did not pursue the case against Tytell.
In 1999 he moved back to Israel, to the settlement of Shvut Rachel, and in 2000 became an Israeli citizen under the Law of Return, which grants Jews Israeli citizenship. In May 2000 the Shin Bet detained him at the airport and subjected him to a lie detector test, which he passed.
After marrying Rivka Pepperman in 2003 and starting a family, he began targeting a different sort of victim. In 2006 he distributed flyers in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem with an explanation of how to make Molotov Cocktails and called for violent action against the Gay Pride Parade in the capital that year.
Later that year, seeking revenge against the police, he placed an explosive device outside a police station in the settlement of Eli. The device was detonated by sappers. In 2007, Tytell, who was considered to be a self-taught expert bomb maker, laid a bomb outside a church near the city of Beit Shemesh, wounding a Palestinian tractor driver from a town south of Jerusalem.
On March 20, 2008 he left a booby-trapped basket of sweets, traditionally given during the Purim holiday, outside the door of David Ortiz in the settlement of Ariel. The family, he believed, were Jews who worked as Christian missionaries. The Ortiz’s 15 year-old son, Ami, opened the basket and absorbed the impact of hundreds of pieces of shrapnel. He was brought to the hospital in critical condition but survived.
In September 2008, Tytell, a father of four, built another improvised explosive device. This time he placed it outside the door of Israel Prize-winning professor Ze’ev Sternhell, who was wounded in the legs when he opened the door to his home.
Tytell later admitted that he had planned to fire a mortar at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, but ditched the plan for fear of injuring Jewish worshipers nearby.
Although he is often referred to as “the Jewish terrorist,” his killing spree, while long and uncommonly brutal, is not entirely unique. Jews have carried out several political murders in Israel and a slew of terror attacks against Arabs, most notably the 1994 murder of 29 Palestinians who had come to pray in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
On May 4 2010, Jerusalem’s district psychiatrist deemed Tytell unfit to stand trial. The evaluation was criticized by Israeli-Arab Knesset members and following a new psychiatric evaluation, the district court overturned the previous ruling and in December 2011 declared Tytell “fit and capable of standing trial.”
In February 2012, the Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s Office and Tytell’s attorneys reached an agreement under which he would confess to two counts of murder and eight other charges.
Tytell’s attorneys confessed on his behalf, as Tytell himself declared he did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
Judge Moshe Drori wrote that Tytell recognized only “the rulings of the court of heaven.”
He will be sentenced in the coming weeks and will likely face a maximum sentence of life in prison.