Israeli ringleader gets life for burning alive Palestinian teen

Yosef Haim Ben-David (centre) being escorted to the Israeli District Court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2016.
Yosef Haim Ben-David (centre) being escorted to the Israeli District Court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

JERUSALEM (AFP) - An Israeli court on Tuesday (May 3) handed down a life sentence to the ringleader of a Jewish gang that kidnapped, beat and burned alive a Palestinian teenager in 2014.

Yosef Haim Ben-David, 31, was sentenced for killing 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and was also given 20 years for other crimes.

He was also told to pay 150,000 shekels (S$54,000) to Abu Khdeir's family.

He had earlier been found responsible but entered a late insanity plea.

After the verdict was read out, angry members of Abu Khdeir's family cursed Ben-David as he was taken from the court.

Ben-David, wearing a burgundy yarmulke and a black shirt, earlier told the court he was "sorry".

"I am sorry for the family. This is not me. I wasn't in control," he said.

Abu Khdeir was kidnapped by Ben-David and two young accomplices from Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on July 2, 2014 and beaten.

His burned body was found hours later in a forest in the western part of the city.

A forensic report showed smoke in his lungs, indicating he had been alive when set alight.

Ben-David was found in November to have led the assault, but his lawyers submitted last-minute documents saying he was mentally ill.

A court rejected that appeal last month, finding that he was sane.

A court in February sentenced Ben-David's two Israeli accomplices to life and 21 years in prison for the killing, but he was seen to be the ringleader.

Abu Khdeir's father Hussein, speaking ahead of the verdict, said no punishment would be enough.

"Whatever they decide, our wounds will not heal - the boy will not come back," he told AFP.

The brutal murder in 2014 shocked Israelis and Palestinians alike, and helped contribute to the escalation in violence that culminated in the 50-day Gaza war that summer in which more than 2,000 Palestinians and 73 Israelis died.

Israeli authorities said the suspects had decided to kill an Arab and equipped themselves with cables, petrol and other materials before randomly choosing Abu Khdeir.

They had tried to kidnap a child in east Jerusalem the day before, but were thwarted by its mother.

His murder was seen as revenge for the killing of Israeli teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, who were abducted from a hitchhiking stop near the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.

The last-minute insanity appeal, made only minutes before the end of the trial in November, also caused dismay among Abu Khdeir's family, who said they feared a miscarriage of justice.

Ben-David's lawyer said their client, who claimed to be the "Messiah", was not criminally responsible for his actions, but the claim was rejected.

"This is an evil and cruel man who does not represent our civilised society," state prosecutor Uri Korb said at the hearing, adding that the killing "brought shame upon our society and offended our values".

The ruling came with tensions once again high on Tuesday.

Police said they had arrested a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem's Old City suspected of stabbing a Jewish man there late on Monday.

The victim, described by police as "a Jewish male, aged about 60", was said by Jerusalem's Shaarei Tzedek hospital to be in stable condition after treatment for a damaged lung.

Since Oct 1, 203 Palestinians and 28 Israelis have been killed in an ongoing wave of violence.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, Israeli authorities say.