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Two Jewish men suspected of terror, racial assault of Arab Israeli in Jerusalem

Gag order on case lifted; suspects allegedly caused head injuries to the victim, 52, during a deliberate violent provocation in flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood last month

Screen capture from video shows Muhammad Zahran, left, falling to the ground after allegedly being hit by one of a mob of Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, on October 31, 2022. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video shows Muhammad Zahran, left, falling to the ground after allegedly being hit by one of a mob of Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, on October 31, 2022. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Two Jewish Israeli men were arrested last week on suspicion of terror and racially motivated offenses for allegedly attacking a resident of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood last month, causing him head injuries.

Details of the case were permitted for publication after the Supreme Court lifted a gag order at the request of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The two suspects, in their 20s, are accused of assaulting Muhammad Zahran, 52, on October 13 as he stood in the doorway of his home during a night of violent clashes between Jews and Arabs in the flashpoint neighborhood.

A short while earlier, a 17-year-old Jewish Israeli was moderately hurt by a rock that hit his head as Jewish and Arab youths hurled rocks at each other. The two incidents happened about 100 meters apart.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday ordered the suspects held in custody for an additional four days.

At the hearing, a police representative said that the assault was not an “act of revenge for a serious incident” — the injury of the 17-year-old — but “a provocation by a group of Jews.”

“This is an attack on a person who was not related to a previous incident,” the officer said, referring to the Jews and Arabs throwing rocks at each other.

Police said that although the main suspect has been presented with evidence against him, he has maintained his right to keep silent throughout, prolonging and hindering the investigation.

The other suspect, who is not accused of actually hitting the victim, was nonetheless present during the attack and had taken part in the earlier clashes, police said.

CCTV video of the incident shows Zahran standing in the entrance to his home when a group of men approach him and, without any apparent provocation, one strikes him on the head, knocking him to the floor. The men then walk off.

The Shin Bet said in a statement that eight people were involved in assaulting Zahran, a father of four with no record of security-related incidents and who was not involved in any violent activity or in any confrontation.

“The group sought to harm the Arabs as revenge for clashes between Arabs and Jews that evening,” the Shin Bet said.

It said the two suspects are residents of the West Bank settlements of Yitzhar and Beit El and that they came to Sheikh Jarrah “specifically in order to confront Arabs.”

“It should be noted that contrary to conflicting reports on the subject,” the clash was not mutually instigated, the Shin Bet said, placing responsibility for the violence on the Jewish mob.

Police said at the time that officers detained five suspects over the violence. The identities of the detainees were not immediately announced.

Police officers are seen in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood following a clash, October 13, 2022. (Israel Police)

Earlier this week, an Arab suspect was arrested for throwing the rock that injured the Jewish teenager. Though his case is being handled by the Israel Police and was announced at the time, that of the two Jewish suspects was barred from publication and is being handled by the Shin Beit security service.

The difference between how the cases are being treated played a central role in the Supreme Court decision to lift the gag order on Monday, Ynet reported.

The court rejected as “not convincing” the reason given for withholding publication — that it would harm national security. It also noted that it had not been told why details of the Arab suspect are permitted for publication, but those of the two Jewish suspects not.

In ordering that the cases be treated similarly, the court also instructed that the Jewish suspects be permitted to meet with legal counsel.

Attorneys for the pair said they were held for six days without being granted a meeting with their lawyers.

Adi Kedar, Nati Rom and Avihai Hajabi, from the Honenu legal aid organization, further claimed that during their first meeting with the suspects on Tuesday their clients complained of rights violations including harassment by female investigators, sleep deprivation, interrogation on Shabbat and being denied the right to prayer.

The lawyers said in a statement, “The rights of the suspects were trampled with a draconian order preventing a meeting [with attorneys] and with an aggressive investigation.” They further argued that the case should not have been handled by the Shin Bet.

Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known as Shimon Hatzadik, has become one of Jerusalem’s tensest neighborhoods. Jewish nationalists have sought to evict Palestinian residents in decades-long legal battles that helped touch off an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip last year.

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