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Supreme Court judge sorry for offering condolences to dead terrorist’s family

Justice Neal Hendel says he ‘had no intention of hurting anyone’ when he made the comment while voiding deceased prisoner’s early release petition

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on April 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on April 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel apologized to Israeli bereaved families on Friday, after offering his condolences to the family of a convicted terrorist who recently died in jail elicited public outrage.

“I had no intention of hurting anyone,” Hendel wrote. “I wish to express my deep regret to bereaved families who were hurt.”

The US-born jurist’s comments were included in a ruling he issued voiding an early release petition by the family of Sami Abu Diak, who died Tuesday in Israeli custody after battling cancer. He died before the court was able to hear his case.

In his ruling, issued due to the convict’s death, Hendel noted that he “shared in the sorrow of the family” — a common expression of condolence in Hebrew.

Protesters fly Palestinian flags and carry posters with pictures of Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail, Sami Abu Diak, who died of cancer, during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 26. 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

In a separate statement on Friday, a court spokesman said Hendel “was asked to void a petition due to the death of the petitioner while serving his sentence. In the very few instances that such incidents have occurred, Justice Hendel habitually notes that he shares in the family’s sorrow.”

After a public outcry over his expression of empathy, Hendel withdrew his ruling and released a new one without the controversial wording, explaining that it had not been proper for him to issue it by himself. The new, nearly identical ruling was signed by three judges.

Abu Diak was serving three life sentences for voluntary manslaughter and kidnapping, among other charges. He was linked to the armed wing of the Palestinian Fatah faction and was arrested in the early 2000s, during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. He was convicted over the killing of Ilya Krivitz, a Jewish resident of the Homesh settlement, in 2001 and was involved in the killing of three Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israeli security forces, according to reports.

Terror victim Ilya Krivitz (Foreign Ministry)

The Palestinian Authority and Abu Diak’s family had asked for his release to allow him to die at his family’s side, but Israeli officials denied the request. The Palestinians had also reached out to European countries and the Red Cross to apply pressure on Israel to release him.

Hendel also apologized to the Krivitz family.

“It is a disgrace that a judge on the High Court expresses sorrow for a terrorist,” Krivitz’s family said in a statement reported by Ynet.

“It doesn’t make any sense that he says such things,” Krivitz’s daughter Rita Rakowski told the Hebrew news site.

“My dad was an ordinary person who was murdered just because he was Jewish. A judge in the State of Israel should not express his position on such matters.”

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