After three years of troubles, imprisonment and thousands of shekels in court fees, Avraham Binyamin of Yitzhar was acquitted of charges he attacked Arab olive-pickers and left-wing activists.
Judge Carla Raginiano decided to completely acquit Binyamin of any involvement in the attack, which allegedly took place three years ago. Raginiano said that the police failed to demonstrate any connection between Binyamin and the alleged attack. His case is but the latest in a series of high-profile accusations that local Jews cut down Arab trees, followed by low-profile acquittals and debunking of such claims by tree-experts and judges.
Binyamin, a 20-year-old resident of the northern Shomron town of Yitzhar, was arrested after left-wing activists, led by Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights and the radical Ta’ayush group, claimed they had rocks thrown at them by Jews from Yitzhar as they helped local Arabs harvest olives nearby. Ta’ayush activist Or Gurlitz claimed that Binyamin threw stones at him and stole his knapsack.
Binyamin was arrested and imprisoned for several days in the Ariel police station, during which time he says police investigators hit him while he was tied. He was released only after signing a restraining order banning him from setting foot in Judea or Samaria for six months and posting 4,500 shekels bail.
During the course of the trial, at the Kfar Saba Magistrate’s Court, an IDF reserves company commander was called to the witness stand by the prosecution in order to testify against Binyamin. He refused to do so, to the prosecution’s consternation, instead telling the court that the left-wing activists had lied in their police complaint.
Binyamin’s lawyer, Ofer Ashkenazi revealed irregularities in the police handling of the case. Police refused to put together a line-up for local Arabs to be able pick out who supposedly attacked them. Ashkenazi alleged that police knew Binyamin, and assumed his guilt from the outset. Binyamin’s lawyer also demonstrated during the trial that the left-wing activists had given four different testimonies regarding the identity of the attacker.
Another key witness, left-wing activist and Beit Berl professor Yaakov Manor, was found to have given contradictory testimony.
Binyamin told Arutz-7 that he is considering suing the police for their superficial and faulty investigation of the case, as well as for his false imprisonment and alleged abuse while under police custody.
Ta’yush’s Gurlitz, a resident of Ramat Gan, told Arutz-7 that he is “very sorry to hear about the acquittal.” He said he is still convinced that Binyamin was the attacker and that the verdict is “part of the forgiving attitude of the judicial system toward the attacks of the settlers.”
Meanwhile, police forensics units have once again entered Samaria’s olive groves to determine whether olive trees have been cut down by local Jewish residents, as alleged by left-wing groups and the international media, or by villagers seeking compensation.
A local Arab from the village of Burin told Israel’s Channel 10 that he saw groups of settlers from an outlying neighborhood near Elon Moreh cut down the olive trees that border the community.
Defense Minister Sha’ul Mofaz announced the launching of a special investigation into the cutting of the olive trees, saying the perpetrators would be found and brought to justice.
Police investigators last year found hundreds of trees that had allegedly been cut by Jewish residents to have actually been pruned by their owners. The investigators now say there is a possibility the Arab villagers caused the damage themselves, in order to receive compensations from the government. “Something is clearly suspicious in the way these trees were cut,” Police Superintendent Shlomi Sagi told Army Radio. He said that it would be strange for Jewish residents to start cutting the trees on the side closest to the Arab village and merely cut off branches, when they could have cut the trunks with the chainsaws apparently used.
MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz-Yahad) called the tree-cuttings an act of terror and demanded the IDF clamp a closure on Judea and Samaria until the perpetrators are apprehended. “Had it been Arabs who cut down the trees, security forces would have acted a long time ago," he said.
Jewish farmers in Gush Etzion and Samaria say, however, that they have had hundreds of fruit trees uprooted and acres of wheat burned by local Arabs, but police, to date, have never carried out serious investigations into the vandalism.