Two brothers who pled guilty to starting a fire and spray-painting racist epithets on the walls of a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem were sentenced Wednesday to two and two-and-a-half years in prison.
Shlomo and Nachman Twitto, who admitted to setting the Max Rayne Hand in Hand school ablaze in November along with Yitzhak Gabai, are members of the Jewish extremist group Lehava, which works to prevent Jewish-Arab marriages and expressions of coexistence, and regularly organizes anti-Arab protests in Jerusalem.
Eighteen-year-old Nachman Twitto, who was convicted of an additional count of sedition to violence, was sentenced to a prison term six months longer than the one handed down to his brother Shlomo, 20.
The Jerusalem District Court also required Shlomo and Nachman Twitto to pay the school NIS 10,000 ($2,600) and NIS 15,000, respectively, in compensation.
Gabai, who unlike the Twitto brothers refused to reach a plea bargain with prosecutors, has yet to be convicted.
Leaving the courtroom, the brothers appeared upbeat, smiling and singing songs praising God. Addressing the media, Nachman Twitto said, “The price [of my actions] was worth it.”
According to the indictment, the men decided to vandalize the school in order to garner media attention for their fight against intermarriage and coexistence. On the night of November 28, 2014, they snuck into the school through a window, carrying paint cans and bottles of gasoline.
Before setting several classrooms on fire, they left 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 Jewish ultra-nationalist movements.
Following the court decision, the school expressed disappointment over what it labeled “a light punishment.”
“We respect the court’s decision, but regret the light punishment the two arsonists received,” Nihad Arshid, chairman of the school’s steering committee, told Israeli media.
“One of them even said performing the act was worth the punishment. I sincerely hope that will not be the message that leaves this court today,” he added.
The school said it would donate the compensation it would receive to projects encouraging Jewish-Arab coexistence.
Five Hand in Hand schools across the country educate over 1,000 students and aim to “create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel” through bilingual education in Hebrew and Arabic, and integrated classes.
The actions of Lehava, headed by the extremist activist Bentzi Gopstein, have been denounced by President Reuven Rivlin as akin to “rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon may be preparing to categorize Lehava as a terrorist organization.