Two Israelis Convicted of Burning Mohammed Abu Khdeir to Death in Revenge Murder

Mohammed Abu Khudeir
The mother (C) of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, sits at the Jerusalem District Court, November 30. Two youths were convicted of his murder, while a third suspect will be tried in January. Reuters/Ammar Awad

Jerusalem's district court convicted two Israeli Jews for the 2014 murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir on Monday—although the court delayed issuing a verdict on the accused ringleader after his lawyers submitted a last-minute insanity plea.

In July last year, the two convicted youths kidnapped, beat and immolated Khdeir in the Jerusalem Forest in what was an apparent revenge murder after two Palestinian men killed three Israeli teenage hitchhikers in the West Bank the month before. The two youths, who cannot be named because they were minors at the time, were accompanied by a 31-year-old man named Yosef Haim Ben-David II and all three suspects reenacted the attack for police in the forest after they were arrested.

While the court said there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Ben-David, his defense team submitted a last-minute psychiatric evaluation in which they claimed he was not responsible for his actions at the time of the attack, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported. Authorities have scheduled a new sentencing hearing for January.

The judges in the case said that Ben-David had "confessed in his interrogations to all the acts attributed to him in the indictment, including kidnapping and murder."

Khdeir's father, Mohammed, called the trial a "lie" in comments made to Israeli Army Radio, according to the Guardian. "I'm afraid that the court will eventually get them off the hook," he said. "I want [to see] justice in the court. Where's justice? The judges mustn't accept this."

According to events detailed in the trial, the three accused men drove around Jerusalem in a bid to find an Arab victim. They found Khdeir and kidnapped him before taking him to a secluded area of the forest. The two Israelis convicted held Khdeir before Ben-David ordered them to "end him" and one of them choked him. Ben-David then beat Khdeir over the head with a crowbar and all three doused him with fuel, setting him on fire while he was still alive.

"We pretend to see ourselves as a society with values that are different from those of our enemies, but these defendants showed us a sight from which emanates a disturbing picture," Uri Korb, the prosecutor, said, according to Haaretz. "We have reached a point in which the words have ended and something dramatic has befallen Israel."

Khdeir's death sparked a series of events that resulted in the 50-day Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014, in which Israeli forces killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including 1,585 civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian accounts, and Palestinian militants killed 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians, according to Israeli accounts.

Mass protests across the West Bank followed Khdeir's murder, while Israeli forces launched an operation against members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the West Bank for alleged links to the two men who killed the three Israeli teens.

In response, Hamas escalated rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory before the Israeli military launched "Operation Protective Edge" in the coastal enclave.