A senior Israeli minister told prosecutors on Saturday to pursue the death penalty for a Palestinian suspect in the grisly murder of an Israeli teen in Jerusalem last week.
Arafat Irfayia, 29, was arrested Friday on suspicion of killing Ori Ansbacher, 19, in a wooded area of southern Jerusalem on Thursday, in a case that has sparked outrage across the country.
Authorities suspect Irfayia may had a nationalistic motive, according to Hebrew-language press reports, but are also probing if the attack was sexual in nature.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Channel 13 news Saturday that “the military prosecution needs to ask for the death penalty.”
Shaked and other ministers have insisted that the murder was a terror attack, though most details of the incident have been kept under gag order.
“We should not hide the truth,” she told the news channel. “He killed Ori because she was a Jewish girl.”
Ansbacher, from the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank south of Jerusalem, was found dead in the woods at the Ein Yael nature center in south Jerusalem late Thursday, with what police said were “signs of violence,” after she was reported missing earlier in the day.
Citing the suspect’s own account under questioning, the police and the Shin Bet said in a statement Saturday night that Irfaiya left his home in Hebron on Thursday armed with a knife and made his way toward Jerusalem, where he spotted Ansbacher in the woods and fatally attacked her.
He was arrested Friday during a raid in Ramallah but has not yet been charged. Irfayia had previously served time for being in Israel illegally and for possession of a knife, Channel 13 reported.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Saturday that authorities should treat the case as terror no matter what.
“When a Palestinian in Israel illegally murders a Jew in the State of Israel, there is no doubt that it needs to be considered as nationalistic murder,” he told Channel 13 news. “It does not matter what he says or doesn’t say in the interrogation. I hope the relevant authorities understand this and if not, we need to legislate it.”
Although the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law, it has only ever been used once — in 1962 in the case of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the martial law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank, but currently requires a unanimous decision from a panel of three judges, and has never been implemented.
Legislation that would have expanded the use of the death penalty in terror cases failed to advance late last year amid political wrangling after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who had been pushing the bill, left the coalition.
In April, Shaked told the Ynet news site that she was in favor of the death penalty in extreme cases, but did not think the new legislation was necessary as military prosecutors already had the option.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who as defense minister oversees the military prosecution, backed the death penalty bill in November. He also called for the death penalty after a 2017 terror attack in which several members of a family were knifed to death inside their home in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
However, the legislation has been opposed by security officials, including Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman who called it “unhelpful” in testimony in front of a Knesset panel in November.
On Saturday, Liberman and National Union party head Bezalel Smotrich urged legislators to reconsider the death penalty legislation in the wake of the Ansbacher killing, and others urged hard-line measures.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who founded the New Right party with Shaked for April elections, called on Netanyahu to implement Knesset legislation passed in July to slash funds to the PA by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.
“The terrorists are no longer afraid. At this moment [they] are preparing the next terrible murder of Jews,” Bennett said in a statement.
The education minister, along with Shaked, vowed to support the implementation of the legislation, which was supposed to have gone into effect in January.
Security officials have reportedly opposed the law due to concerns that it may lead to the collapse of the PA, whose security forces Israel cooperates with considerably to limit terror in the West Bank.