A Palestinian policeman sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the lynching of two Israeli soldiers 17 years ago, walked free on Wednesday after new evidence persuaded a military court to reduce his sentence.
The brutal killing of the two soldiers in the first weeks of the Second Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, deeply shocked Israeli society and the image of a Palestinian man proudly displaying his blood soaked hands to a mob has become an iconic moment in the long history of violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians
Hatam Faiz Khalil Magari was sentenced to life in 2004 on charges that included deliberately causing the death of Yosef Abrahami, who was beaten to death along with another soldier, Vadim Norzhich, in a gruesome lynch caught on film by an Italian TV crew.
But after accepting that the evidence which helped identify Magari as one of the murderers was problematic, a military court reached a plea deal with Magari that involved scrapping his original conviction for murder and other offenses, and replacing it with a conviction for attacking a soldier and failing to prevent a crime.
The court then sentenced him to eleven and a half years in prison.
As he had already served more than 15 years, he was freed and deported to the Gaza Strip.
The two soldiers had taken a wrong turn in October 2000 and ended up in the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah in the West Bank, at the start of the Second Intifada.
The two men were viciously beaten to death and their bodies were mutilated.
Magari was convicted on the basis of witness testimony from one of the participants, Bassam Hassin A-Luah, according to the Haaretz newspaper. A-Luah also incriminated seven others.
Two of them confessed to being involved in the beatings, but neither incriminated Magari.
Furthermore, two others incriminated by A-Luah were never prosecuted, a fact which cast doubt on his own conviction, Magari claimed.
Magari, who lost an initial appeal against his conviction and subsequently requested a retrial, also said that relevant information from other men which could have affected the court’s decision was not presented at his trial.
Another of the men involved in the lynching, Aziz Salha, achieved notoriety by standing at a window to display his blood-stained hands to the mob below.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2004 for his role in the murder of Norzhich, but was released in 2011 as part of the exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been kidnapped and held by the terror organization, Hamas.