5 March 2012: Appeal filed by settlers convicted of aggravated assault is rejected

Published: 
8 Mar 2012

On July 5, 2008, in the early morning, Medhat Abu Karsh, 30, a resident of A-Samu’ in the Hebron District, arrived with his family to harvest barley he was cultivating on a plot of land that he claims has belonged to his family for many years. The Asa’el settlement outpost was built close to this plot. At around 9:00 AM, a fire broke out in the barley field, most likely from a cigarette Abu Karsh discarded. Abu Karsh reports that he tried to extinguish the fire and turned to some settlers who were nearby for help. Four settlers approached, but instead of helping fight the fire, they attacked him and his family members, who fled the area. Abu Karsh, who has a leg handicap, was unable to run and the settlers caught him, tied his hands and began to beat him. They then dragged him to a utility pole in the nearby Asa’el outpost, tied him to the pole and continued to beat him.

According to the testimony Abu Karsh gave B’Tselem, soldiers who were present at the scene did nothing to stop the violence against him. It also seemed that one of them intended to join the assault, but another soldier restrained him. In the meantime, Abu Karsh’s family returned to the area along with Israeli activists from the Ta’ayush solidarity organization, who had come to help them with the harvest. However, the military and the settlers did not allow them to get to Abu Karsh, who was still tied to the pole. Meanwhile, the settlers were pouring water over Abu Karsh, apparently in order to wash away the blood and marks caused by the violence. Some of the incident was filmed by international activists. After police and civil administration units arrived at the scene, Abu Karsh was finally released and taken to hospital in Hebron where he was treated for a head injury and multiple contusions to the limbs and back.

After the incident, B’Tselem contacted the Military Advocate General Corps demanding an investigation into the suspicion that soldiers did nothing to prevent the settlers from continuing to hold Abu Karsh tied to a pole and assault him. In response, the MAG Corps notified B’Tselem that according to the military's information, the soldiers acted appropriately, assisted the injured man and prevented the assault from continuing, while they themselves were under attack by the settlers. According to the military, the soldiers filed a police complaint regarding the assault.

A criminal investigation of the incident conducted by the police resulted in an indictment against two of the assailants. On April 6, 2011, Judge Hani Slutzki of the Be’er Sheva District Court convicted Eyal Rahamim and Lior Scher Ben David of aggravated assault after they pled guilty in a plea bargain. The court accepted the defendant’s argument that the fire was caused by a cigarette Abu Karsh had discarded.

A probation report was ordered for both defendants. Eyal Rahamim’s report indicated that “the probation service was under the impression that the defendant has difficulty making deep inquiries into problematic behavioral patterns and a tendency toward emotionally disassociating himself from his actions and that these may increase the risk of further aggressive behavior on his part.” Additionally, Rahamim left the meeting with the probation officer before it concluded and so no recommendation was made in his case.

As for Ben David: “… the probation officer recommended a tangible, educational penalty, which would clarify to the defendant the price of his problematic behavior in this incident and serve as a deterrent…” Despite this, the probation officer recommended a fine, a suspended prison sentence and community service only.

The judge sentenced both defendants to a three-month prison term to be served as community service and a six-month suspended prison term for three years. In addition, Rahamim was convicted of insulting a public servant (a soldier).

Despite the lightness of the sentences, the state did not appeal to the Supreme Court. It was rather the defendants who did. The Supreme Court rejected their appeal on February 9, 2012 and upheld the sentence ruling:

Indeed, for the purpose of the proceeding at bar there is no dispute that the Plaintiff lit the fire in the fields of the outpost and this fact does tip the balance in favor of a light sentence for the Appellant. However, the Appellant’s argument that all he did was carry out “the procedure for arresting a suspect in order to neutralize the Plaintiff and detain him until security forces he himself called arrived at the scene,” cannot be accepted. This claim is entirely inconsistent with the facts detailed in the further amended indictment, to which the Appellant pled guilty and based upon which he was convicted of the offense of aggravated assault and insulting a public servant. According to these facts, the incident was entirely different and the Appellant used excessive violence against the Plaintiff and acted contemptuously toward security officials who arrived at the scene.