Israel’s Justice Ministry Asks Family of Palestinian Boy Burned Alive for View on Reducing Killers’ Sentences

‘Not a chance in the world,’ says Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s father, adding that he lost sleep after request. ‘What did they think, that we’d say yes?’

The Justice Ministry’s pardons department has recently approached the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a teenage boy who was abducted and burned alive by three Jews in 2014, to get their stance on requests to reduce the sentences of the three, including the two who have been sentenced to life in prison.

“I thought they were crazy, it’s completely insane,” says Hussein Abu Khdeir, father of the slain Mohammed. “I didn’t sleep the night of the phone call and the following nights. Is anyone even thinking about releasing these murderers? What did they think, that we’d say yes? Lunatics. If they receive a pardon or any reduction, I won’t sit quietly. I can’t. How can this be? Has this world gone crazy, to give them a pardon? My fear is that in this extreme government, anything is possible.”

Mohammed Abu Khdeir in apicture released July, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The appeal to the Abu Khdeir family, made both to the father and mother of the victim, was done after all three murderers, Yosef Ben David and the two minors, have in recent weeks filed motions to have their sentences reduced. The three, Ben David and two relatives, then 17 and 16 years old, were convicted of having abducted and murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July 2014, having taken him by force from Beit Hanina, and later burning him to death in the Jerusalem Forest after dousing him with fuel they’d bought before the murder.

The three were convicted at the district and Supreme courts, with Ben David receiving a life sentence plus an additional 20 years, the 17-year-old life in prison plus three years, and the 16-year-old receiving 21 years in prison, although one of the judges believed he too should have been sentenced to life in prison.

In rejecting the appeal of the three, the Supreme Court’s ruling reads, in part: “What is the fountain from which the three drank the deluge of hate and racism that blinded them, to the point where they failed to see that they were suffocating, caving in the skull and burning a human being born in God’s image? What did they learn, recite and internalize at some station along the years of their schooling and boyhood, which led them to the unbearable ease of taking a young Arab’s life? The appellants’ acts have become ‘the Abu Khdeir Affair,’ long since exceeding the boundaries of a regular criminal case. It requires deep accounting on the part of Israeli society […] to eradicate such evil from within it.”

Haaretz has learned that in recent months the three have submitted motions to have their sentences reduced, this following the elapse of nine years since the beginning of their incarceration. Ben David and the older minor submitted their request to the special parole board which is supposed to discuss it, while the minor sentenced to 21 years in prison appealed directly to the president for clemency in reduction of his sentence.

According to procedures and to the Crime Victims Law, the minor’s request was passed on to receive the position of the Justice Ministry and the minister, who are supposed to contact the victim’s family to hear their position. At the same time, due to the request by the two prisoners for life, the Abu Khdeir family was asked its position in their case as well. “I told them right away that there isn’t a chance in the world, I’m still shaking,” said the father, Hussein.

Concurrently, the pardons department contacted the Prisons Service regarding the minor sentenced to 21 years in prison and his rehabilitation process. Should the special parole board recommend reducing the prison terms of the murderers, the matter will be passed on to President Isaac Herzog, who is ultimately supposed to decide about reducing the sentences.

The special parole board hearing the cases of prisoners for life consists of a district court judge, a retired magistrate’s court judge, a representative with years of experience in criminology or education on behalf of the justice minister, and the head of the pardons department at the Justice Ministry.

As to the younger minor’s pardon request, the decision is ultimately Herzog’s, following receipt of the position of the Justice Ministry and minister, and that of the President’s Residence’s own pardons department.