Top rabbis raise money for defense of suspect in Palestinian woman’s killing

Request for donations from national Zionist leaders comes as family of Jewish teen alleged to have killed Aisha Rabi releases video asking for money for legal costs

The Israeli teen (L) suspected of killing Aisha Rabi in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on January 23, 2019. (YouTube/Screen capture)
The Israeli teen (L) suspected of killing Aisha Rabi in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on January 23, 2019. (YouTube/Screen capture)

Four prominent rabbis on Thursday published an open letter calling on members of the public to donate money for the defense of a Jewish teen indicted for the October killing of a Palestinian mother of eight.

In the letter, the rabbis asked for donations for the “legal and public battle” on behalf of the suspect, adding that it can be taken from tithe money.

The letter was signed by four leading figures in the religious Zionist movement: Ohr Etzion Yeshiva head and former Knesset member Rabbi Chaim Druckman; the former chief rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement, Rabbi Dov Lior; former Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel; and Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira of the Ramat Gan hesder yeshiva.

The 16-year-old suspect, a student at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva high school in the northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim, was charged with manslaughter, aggravated stone throwing at a moving vehicle, and intentional sabotage of a vehicle. Each of the charges was connected to the killing of Aisha Rabi, 47, and was qualified as having been carried out “in the context of a terrorist act.”

Kiryat Arba’s former Chief Rabbi Dov Lior (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

If convicted, the suspect could face considerable jail time; a manslaughter terrorism conviction alone carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars.

The rabbis asked followers to give generously to the “liberation fund” for the suspect, using his name, which is barred from publication due to the fact that he is a minor.

Earlier this month Druckman weighed in on the debate surrounding the arrest of a number of teens suspected of involvement in the attack, releasing a video in which he appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “order the immediate release of the youngsters,” saying “they’re not terrorists” and “should not be investigated in the cellars of the Shin Bet.”

Shin Bet officials were quoted on Channel 10 on Sunday as saying Druckman had not contacted the agency to ascertain the specifics of the case prior to making his appeal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Rabbi Chaim Druckman at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 8, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

The rabbis’ appeal came as the family of the suspect released a video also asking for funds. In the clip, the suspect’s father says he was at his yeshiva at the time of the attack, adding: “He is a child who has nothing to do with such acts. He is stable and serious, a young scholar.”

Last week, in announcing the indictment, the Shin Bet said the suspect had committed a “terror attack in every sense.” It also said, in the face of allegations of torture, that it had done nothing illegal while questioning the suspects, and had handled the investigation of suspected Jewish terrorists in exactly the same way it handles probes of suspected Arab terrorists.

A car belonging to a Palestinian couple is seen after it was involved in a deadly crash reportedly due to stone-throwing by Israeli settlers at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank on October 12, 2018. (Zachariah Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights); Aisha Muhammad Talal Rabi (Courtesy)

The agency also accused far-right activists of “a persistent effort…to obstruct the investigation. This included, on the morning after the terror attack, a Sabbath, a group of extremist activists who drove from Yitzhar to the yeshiva in Rehelim in order to brief the youths studying in the yeshiva how to prepare for and handle a Shin Bet interrogation.”

A photo released on January 6, 2019 by the Shin Bet, saying it is a screenshot from a video showing an Israeli flag being burned by Jewish teens suspected of murdering a Palestinian woman in the West Bank. (Shin Bet)

According to the charge sheet, the suspect departed from the Pri Haaretz yeshiva accompanied by several other students late on the evening of October 12. The group arrived at a hilltop between the Rehelim Junction and the Tapuah Junction, overlooking Route 60 — the West Bank’s main north-south artery.

The suspect then grabbed a large rock weighing roughly two kilograms (4.4 pounds) and prepared to hurl it at a Palestinian vehicle, “out of an ideological motive of racism and hostility toward Arabs everywhere,” the indictment stated.

At the same time Rabi, her husband and their nine-year-old daughter were traveling from the Rehelim Junction toward the Tapuah Junction on their way home to the village of Biddya.

According to the indictment, the suspect, identifying the Palestinian plates, hurled the rock at the vehicle and it smashed through the windshield of the passenger side and struck the woman in the head. Rabi’s husband managed to maintain control of the vehicle, calm his panicking daughter and speed to a nearby Nablus clinic, where his wife was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

The northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim. (Samaria Regional Council)

Police carried out the first string of arrests in the case, nabbing three Israeli teenagers suspected of involvement, on December 30 — over two months after Rabi’s death. A week later, two more of their peers were detained — all students at Rehelim’s Pri Haaretz religious boarding school.

One piece of evidence in the case was a video that shows the burning of an Israeli flag. A second item the Shin Bet said its agents found in the room of a suspect was an Israeli flag with a swastika drawn over the Star of David along with the phrase, “Death to Zionists” daubed at the top.

The court released four of the five suspects on January 10, in what the minors’ attorneys claimed signaled a crumbling of the investigation against them.

An official with knowledge of the investigation told The Times of Israel that the prosecution would not be pursuing charges against the four suspects in the case because the “evidentiary basis against them was insufficient.”

Palestinians mourn Aisha Rabi at her funeral in the West Bank village of Bidya, near Salfit, on October 13, 2018. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Earlier this month, a judge revealed that the evidence against the main suspect was a DNA sample matched to him that was found on the stone that struck Rabi in the head.

The teenager’s attorney downplayed the findings, saying that if prosecutors had enough on his client, they would have indicted him immediately rather than requesting five remand extensions in order to complete the investigation.

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