Mother decries sentence for Israeli who burned her son to death

Suha Abu Khudair reacts to the sentencing of two Israeli minors for the July 2014 burning to death of her teenage son Muhammad, at the Jerusalem District Court on 4 February.

Atef Safadi EPA

An Israeli court has sentenced two of the three people convicted of the July 2014 burning to death of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khudair in occupied East Jerusalem.

One Israeli minor was sentenced to life, and a second minor to 21 years in prison at a hearing in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The sentencing of the third and alleged ringleader of the attack, 31-year-old Israeli settler Yosef Haim Ben David, is pending a ruling on his insanity plea.

Last November, a panel of judges agreed to reconsider the last-minute plea submitted by Ben David’s lawyer.

A life sentence is the maximum available to the three-judge panel in the Jerusalem district court.

Both defendants were also ordered to each pay the Abu Khudair family approximately $8,000 in restitution, but the family are refusing to accept the money.

Parents dismayed

Muhammad’s parents, Suha and Hussein Abu Khudair, denounced the sentencing of one of the defendants to only 21 years.

Suha Abu Khudair interrupted the judges as they read the sentence.

“Where is democracy?” she called out, adding, according to Haaretz, “I will go to the International Court. I will not be silent. I did not get justice for Muhammad. Where is my child’s life?”

Video posted on YouTube shows the anguished Suha Abu Khudair addressing the court in Arabic and expressing her fear that her son’s killers will get an early release and serve even less time than their sentences call for.

“We will go to the Supreme Court. We haven’t slept since yesterday, waiting for the sentencing. Where’s the main perpetrator? What’s going on with him? He’s responsible for it,” Hussein said.

Hussein also called for the demolition of his son’s killers’ homes.

“Why do they destroy Arab homes and not theirs?” Hussein said.

In the name of deterrence, Israel regularly demolishes the family homes of Palestinians alleged to have perpetrated attacks against Israelis.

This practice of punitive demolitions is carried out on mere suspicion and does not require a court conviction.

Jewish Israelis accused or convicted of attacking Palestinians are never threatened with home demolition.

“If the court had quickly convicted Muhammad’s killers, the killing of the Dawabshas could have been prevented,” Hussein said, referring to the arson attack by Israeli settlers last summer that killed 18-month-old baby Ali and fatally injured his parents Riham and Saad in the West Bank village of Duma.

In the minority opinion, Judge Rafi Carmel argued for a life sentence for both defendants.

The Israeli youth sentenced to 21 years was found to have remained in the car while Muhammad Abu Khudair, 16, was burned alive.

“In circumstances where all lines of legality and morality are crossed, personal considerations [that led to the lighter sentence] must be rejected in light of the public interest and the need for uncompromising deterrence,” Carmel wrote.

“The punishment must match the horror of the deed,” Carmel added.

The Israeli prosecutor expressed satisfaction with Thursday’s ruling.

“The verdict expresses the severity of the offenses the minors committed,” the prosecutor said. “The heinous murder was done of ideological motives. Abu Khudair was murdered solely because he was an Arab.”

In many cases, Israelis convicted of killing Palestinians receive light sentences or have later received early release or pardons, if they are held accountable at all. The murder of Muhammad Abu Khudair received global attention, which may explain why the sentences were relatively severe by comparison.

Burned alive

During the trial, the two minors described how they murdered Muhammad Abu Khudair.

One defendant testified that on the night of Muhammad’s murder, the group had spent hours looking for a Palestinian child to kidnap and murder.

They found Muhammad outside a mosque near his home in occupied East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood.

They abducted him and beat him unconscious in the back of their car while they drove to a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

They testified that they smashed Muhammad’s head with a crowbar before burning him alive.

Throughout the trial the two minors had downplayed their responsibility for the murder, claiming Ben David had incited the crime as vengeance for the murder of the three Israeli teenagers who had been kidnapped and killed while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank weeks earlier.

In the sentencing order, the judges wrote that while Ben David was the instigator of the abduction and murder of Abu Khudair, the two minors “enthusiastically joined him and were willing participants.”

A hearing to review Ben David’s insanity claims is scheduled for 11 February.

Ali Abunimah contributed research and translation.




Whatever sentences those three receive will not bring back her boy. However, the length of the sentences may deter others from considering such atrocities in the future. Though if one were truly insane, the length of sentence may not be as strong a deterrent than if one were sane.

Which brings us to the motivating factors behind the crime-- the root evils, that have yet to be addressed.

Racist Zionism and Criminal Imperialism must end!


One has to ask why the homes of those found guilty were nor destroyed since this is the usual Israeli response. I would strongly support such a punishment as an additional deterent to Israeli murderers.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.