Sentence increased for man who torched Arab-Jewish school

Lehava activist Yitzhak Gabai, convicted in 2014 for Jerusalem hate crime, gets 4 more months in jail

Yitzhak Gabai, a member of the extreme right-wing Lehava organization, at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 1, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yitzhak Gabai, a member of the extreme right-wing Lehava organization, at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 1, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended the sentence for an arsonist who tried to destroy an Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem in November 2014.

Yitzhak Gabai, 22, and brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twitto, were found guilty in September 2015 by the Jerusalem District Court of starting a fire at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem and spray-painting on the school’s walls messages such as “There is no coexistence with cancer”; “Death to the Arabs”; and “Kahane was right,” a reference to the late rabbi Meir Kahane, a mentor of the Jewish ultra-nationalist movement.

In December, Gabai was sentenced to three years in prison after rejecting a plea deal signed by the Twitto brothers on separate counts of arson, carrying an illegal weapon, and incitement to violence on social media.

In January, the Supreme Court extended the prison sentences of each of the two Twitto brothers by eight months in response to an appeal by the prosecution. Nahman Twitto, 18, had his sentence increased to 38 months, and 20-year-old Shlomo Twitto’s sentence was extended to 32 months.

On Wednesday, the Supreme court upheld the state’s appeal that Gabai’s sentence was too lenient and increased it by four months, to a total of 40 months.

In his ruling, Judge Uri Shoham described the severity of the crime, stating that Gabai had set fire “to a bilingual school in which Jewish and Arab students learn together, driven by a hatred of those who seek to advance the goal of coexistence between Jews and Arabs.”

Shoham wrote that the crime was intended to promote an extremist ideology and to “damage the sense of security of the students and teachers” in the school.

He said he saw no difference between the actions of the Twitto brothers and those of Gabai. He explained in the ruling that Gabai’s sentence should also have been increased by eight months. However, he concurrently reduced the sentence by four months, explaining that the initial sentences for possession of a knife and for incitement were too stringent. After these adjustments, Gabai’s total sentence was increased by only four months.

The trio were activists in the far-right Lehava organization, which, inspired by the teachings of the late Rabbi Kahane, aims to prevent coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Lehava has been denounced by President Reuven Rivlin, who described the group’s actions as akin to “rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel.”

In a December 2014 statement, Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein said that his organization does not act illegally and accused the Shin Bet of trying to frame Lehava and thwart its “holy work of saving the daughters of Israel.”

The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School is one of five Hand in Hand schools operating across the country, educating over 1,000 students in total.

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