Nearly two years after 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair was snatched from outside a mosque in occupied East Jerusalem and driven to a forest where he was bludgeoned with a crowbar before being doused with fuel and burned alive, the ringleader of his murder has been sentenced to life imprisonment plus 20 years.
The victim’s parents have expressed doubts, however, that Yosef Haim Ben David will serve the full term.
Right before his sentence was handed down in Jerusalem, Ben David uttered his first apology since the trial began.
“I apologize for what happened,” he told the court. “I used to work for Zaka [volunteer emergency response teams] and attended to both Jewish and Arab bodies. I always considered the human image and respect for the dead to be holy. I ask forgiveness of the family for all that happened.”
But the Israeli prosecutor said Ben David had “committed inconceivable and repulsive acts.”
“The defendant committed the barbaric acts, motivated by revenge,” said the prosecutor. “Revenge for who? For the family of the kidnapped [teens] who said that they didn’t want revenge?”
The prosecutor was referring to the three Israeli teenagers abducted and killed in the occupied West Bank. Their bodies were found just days before Muhammad Abu Khudair was killed.
Thirty-one-year-old Ben David and two accomplices, who were 16 years old at the time, kidnapped Muhammad in the predawn hours of 2 July 2014.
Within two weeks, the three had confessed to planning and executing the killing of Muhammad.
The minors, whose names have not been released, were sentenced by a Jerusalem court in February: one to life in prison and the other to 21 years.
They were also ordered to pay Muhammad’s family about $8,000 in compensation.
During their trial, the minors claimed that Ben David had conceived of the idea to avenge the murder of the three Israeli teenagers and that they had participated only reluctantly.
But following their initial confession, the police announced that the three suspects had “made a group decision to kidnap and murder an Arab.”
According to the indictment, both minors had restrained Muhammad in the woods and one of them choked him until he passed out.
Ben David, from the West Bank settlement of Adam, never denied responsibility for the killing but made an insanity plea that was rejected by the court last month.
Following Tuesday’s sentencing, Muhammad’s mother, Suha Abu Khudair, expressed doubts that Ben David would serve his full sentence, as Israel has a long history of releasing killers of Palestinians early.
Throughout the trial, Muhammad’s parents expressed strong dissatisfaction with the process and with repeated delays.
He was referring to Israel’s policy of punitive demolitions, used only against Palestinians.
After the sentencing on Tuesday, Abu Khudair repeated his demand for the homes of his son’s killers to be demolished.
While the prosecutor told judges that the families of the three Israeli teenagers had cautioned against revenge for their sons’ killings, that was not true of Israel’s prime minister.
“Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created,” Benjamin Netanyahu said just days before the killing of Muhammad Abu Khudair, quoting a famous poem by Chaim Bialik.
But the prime minister added his own twist: “Neither has vengeance for the blood of three pure youths, who were on their way home to meet their parents, who will not see them anymore.”
Netanyahu called the killers of the Israeli teenagers, whose identity was not known but assumed to be Palestinian, “human animals.”
While Ben David and the two youths who helped him kill Muhammad Abu Khudair are now in prison, there has been no accountability for Israel’s top leaders who whipped the population into a racist frenzy and who have incited violence and vengeance again and again.
Ali Abunimah contributed research and translation.