The Jerusalem District Court on Sunday canceled a plea bargain offered to an Arab resident of East Jerusalem accused of carrying out a deadly terror attack on a bus in the capital last year, after he refused to recognize the authority of the court.
Jabel Mukaber resident and Hamas supporter Bilal Abu Ghanem, who had admitted to the stabbing and shooting attack that killed three people last October, refused to stand and plea as per the deal his attorneys reached with state prosecution last month, the court said in a statement.
As part of the agreement, which would seen have seen seven counts of attempted murder dropped from his charge sheet, Abu Ghanem was to state his confession to the court. Then the judge was expected to convict him on three counts of murder and sentence him to three consecutive life sentences.
Abu Ghanem, however, refused to stand during Sunday’s hearing, even at the explicit request of presiding Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman. She then called for a short recess and instructed Abu Ghanem’s legal counsel to explain court procedures to the defendant.
After the break, Abu Ghanem’s attorney told the court that his client had doubled down on his refusal to comply with procedure, prompting the judge to rescind the plea bargain.
“In light of the circumstances, in which the defendant has refused to stand or address this court, the court does not recognize any deal reached between the two parties,” it said in a statement.
The court will hand down a ruling in Abu Ghanem’s case, on three counts of premeditated murder and seven counts of attempted murder, at a later date. Under Israeli law, premeditated murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
According to the indictment handed down by the court in November, Abu Ghanem and another man, Baha Alyan, boarded Egged bus 78 in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood on the morning of October 13 of last year, and began shooting and stabbing passengers.
The two men were motivated to carry out the attack in retaliation for Israeli “intrusions in Al-Aqsa,” a mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and the “settlers who murder small children,” the charge sheet said.
The attack claimed the lives of Haviv Haim, 78, and Alon Govberg, 51. Richard Lakin, 76, who was critically wounded, died some two weeks later. Over a dozen people were injured in the attack.
Police who arrived at the scene shot and killed Alyan. Abu Ghanem was shot and injured, and police took him into custody.
In January, Alyan’s and Abu Ghanem’s family homes in Jabel Mukaber were demolished by Israeli security forces.
An ongoing wave of Palestinian stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks since October has claimed the lived of 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals since the beginning of October. The latest victim was American student Taylor Force, stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant in Jaffa last week.
An estimated 180 Palestinians have died in the same period, more than two-thirds of them in the course of attacking Israelis, and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops, according to the Israeli army.