4 life sentences for terrorist who killed Salomon family of Halamish

Military court judges discuss death penalty for Omar al-Abed, but ultimately rule against it, call for 19-year-old ‘not to be released in any future deal’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Omar al-Abed (c) smiles in the Judea Military Court ahead of his sentencing on February 15, 2018 for the murders of Yosef, Elad, and Chaya Salomon. (Courtesy)
Omar al-Abed (c) smiles in the Judea Military Court ahead of his sentencing on February 15, 2018 for the murders of Yosef, Elad, and Chaya Salomon. (Courtesy)

The Judea Military Court handed down four life sentences Thursday to the terrorist who slaughtered Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon in the Halamish settlement last July.

Nineteen-year-old Omar al-Abed was given one life sentence for each of the murders and an additional life sentence for the attempted murders of Yosef’s wife Tova, who was seriously wounded, and daughter-in-law Michal, who hid with her five children.

In addition, Abed was ordered to pay NIS 2,550,000 ($724,634) in damages to the family within three years.

The Salomons had been calling for the death penalty against al-Abed, and the judges in their ruling said that they had considered capital punishment.

(L-R) Yosef, Elad and Chaya Salomon who were stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in the Halamish settlement on July 21, 2017. (Courtesy)

“We also discussed the maximum sentence — the death penalty. Words cannot describe the extent of the atrocity committed by the defendant,” the judges wrote. They went on to call for al-Abed “not to be released in any future deal.”

In the minority opinion, Judge Dov Gilboa argued in favor of executing Abed, stating that “he enjoyed the whole trial with a smile.” The two other judges, Menachem Lieberman and Zvi Heilbronn, voted against capital punishment.

Responding to Thursday’s sentence, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who had called for the death penalty for al-Abed, tweeted that “no number of life sentences is enough to punish this human being who still has a smile smeared on his face. My heart aches with the Salomon family.”

After sneaking into Halamish late Friday night on July 21, Abed “noticed that the house to his right was dark and quiet, while the house to his left was lit up, with laughter emerging from within,” and decided to approach, the August indictment against him said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara console relatives of the three members of the Salomon family who were killed in a terror attack in Halamish on July 22, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The Salomons were celebrating the birth of a new grandson and assumed the knock on the door came from their first guest. Upon walking inside, Abed rhetorically asked Chaya, “What about Al-Aqsa,” before thrusting his knife into her stomach.

In a Facebook post published before he set out from the neighboring village of Kobar, Abed wrote that Palestinians needed to defend the Temple Mount.

The previous day, heavy clashes broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in and around Jerusalem over new security measures at the Temple Mount, following a deadly terror attack at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.

After killing Chaya, 46, Abed proceeded to stab Tova, 68, who managed to escape and run upstairs shouting, “Terrorist,” the indictment said.

He went on to stab Yosef, 70, in the stomach, causing the latter to collapse to the floor.

Israeli forensic police inspect the home where a Palestinian terrorist broke in the day before and stabbed four Israelis, killing three of them, in Halamish, on July 22, 2017. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)

After sustaining three stab wounds, Elad managed to wrestle the knife from Abed’s hands. The two continued to fight until Abed grabbed a wooden cutting board and bashed it over Elad’s head, causing him to collapse. Abed then proceeded to stab the father of five 12 times as his children hid upstairs with his wife, Michal.

Then, noticing that Yosef was still conscious, Abed stabbed the grandfather 15 more times until he too stopped moving. At that point, a neighbor, an off-duty soldier who heard the screams, managed to shoot and wound the terrorist through the kitchen window. He and his father secured the house and waited for security forces to arrive.

 In August, Israeli forces sealed with cement the floor of the Kobar home where Abed and his family had lived, but the Salomon family is petitioning the High Court for the entire home to be demolished.

Israel says the demolishing of terrorists’ homes is an effective means of deterring future attacks, though the practice has been criticized as a form of collective punishment.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (center) walks before IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (4th left) as they visit the site of a terror attack in the settlement of Halamish, July 22, 2017 (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense via Flash90)

After the partial demolition, Elad’s wife Michal said the measure was insufficient and called for harsher punishments for terrorists, including the death penalty.

“Their house can be rebuilt; my home has been destroyed forever,” she said in a statement. “We need the death penalty so that these terrorists will not be able to build a new home, and if not the death penalty, then we need to seriously toughen their imprisonment conditions and withhold from them everything but the minimum, things like television or the possibility of education.”

In December, when the Military Advocate General said he would not seek the death penalty against Abed, the Salomon family accused Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “toying with them” by making false pledges that they would advance legislation sanctioning the death penalty for terrorists.

Despite the MAG’s recommendation of four life sentences, the Judea Military Court still could have handed down an execution verdict, but chose to side with the MAG in a 2-1 vote. The MAG, in his recommendation, acknowledged that capital punishment is permissible under law, but wrote that the measure was against the military’s policy.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party made a death penalty a major campaign promise in the 2015 election.

The legislation the party is currently advancing in the Knesset would apply to those convicted of fatal acts of terrorism, based on the Israeli legal definition. In light of the existing law, a Yisrael Beytenu spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel, the death penalty would extend to Palestinians convicted of killing IDF soldiers as well as civilians.

Only one person has ever been sentenced to death by a standing Israeli court: Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.

Though it has only ever been used in Eichmann’s case in 1962, the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the military law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank.

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