In Court, Victim of Attempted Lynching by Israelis Finds Himself Under Attack Again

12:00 Nov 8 2022 Tel Aviv (תל־אביב-יפו , تل أبيب - يافا ) District Court and Bat Yam (בַּת יָם)

In Court, Victim of Attempted Lynching by Israelis Finds Himself Under Attack Again In Court, Victim of Attempted Lynching by Israelis Finds Himself Under Attack Again In Court, Victim of Attempted Lynching by Israelis Finds Himself Under Attack Again
Said Moussa. Published by Haaretz

Said Moussa after he was attacked in Bat Yam, May 12, 2021. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum Published by Haaretz

Israeli paramedics evacuate an Arab citizen of Israel after an attempted lynch by Jewish rioters in Bat Yam, last week Credit: Tomer Appelbaum Published May 27, 2021 by Haaretz

The prosecutor rarely objected to press her case and help out Said Moussa, as the defense tried to depict him as a terrorist despite the brutal beating he endured during the interethnic riots of May 2021

by Ran Shimoni and Bar Peleg for Haaretz
Nov 8, 2022 4:42 pm IST

Said Moussa arrived at the courtroom alone dressed in jeans, a pullover white pinstripe shirt and a baseball hat. He sat down on the witness chair and fiddled with his beard, which has grown long in recent months. He looked around – at the lawyers and the defendants' families – and breathed heavily.

This was his first time in the Tel Aviv District Court, where he would describe the attack on him in Tel Aviv suburb Bat Yam in May 2021. That attempted lynching – during the air war with Gaza that month – has become a symbol of the interethnic riots around the country that rocked Israel and shattered Moussa's life.

Seven Israelis are accused of assaulting him: David Botier, Moshe Mansour, Maor Mughrabi, Osher Itgav, Itzik Guetta, Tamir Srour and Yitzhak Saban. In the courtroom late last month, Moussa saw most of them for the first time.

While sitting in his car in a traffic jam Moussa was beaten and shocked with some kind of Taser, so he backed up in an attempt to flee – but into the car behind him. He doesn't remember the rest.

Most of the accused have been indicted on suspicion of aggravated assault; three others have struck plea deals – Shai Simhon, who is awaiting sentencing, Lahav Nagauker, who received 20 months in prison, and Yaakov Cohen, who received 15 months.

Two minors suspected of taking part in the attack are being tried in juvenile court, and in a separate trial at the Tel Aviv District Court, Netanel Binyamin is accused of the most serious crime in the case, attempted murder.

The attack began when Moussa was pulled out of his car by a mob and was beaten, kicked and struck with sticks. A dog was also sicced on him – all told, he was left in serious condition. The problem is that Moussa doesn’t remember much – neither the beatings nor the attackers.

It's also clear he doesn’t want to talk about it. “I feel awful,” he said on the witness stand, “but I have no choice.”

His first testimony lasted about 20 minutes. Moussa described the events that led him to the Bat Yam promenade the day he was attacked. He was in neighboring Jaffa, near the beach, when he decided to drive home to Ramle in central Israel. He noticed the police and heard a siren.

Early on in the drive, he picked up two hitchhikers, a man and a woman, who asked to be let off in Bat Yam, so he changed his route. In court, he told how, while sitting in his car in a traffic jam near the promenade, people asked him if he was an Arab. He was both beaten and shocked with some kind of Taser, so he backed up in an attempt to flee – but into the car behind him. The rest he didn’t remember.

“If they claim that you accelerated forward toward the people and tried to run them over, what will you say?” Moussa was asked by a lawyer from the State Prosecutor’s Office, Ofra Karmani. She knew that this was where the defense attorneys would go.

“When I was driving forward they were already electrocuting me,” he replied. “What can I tell you? I don’t even remember driving forward.”

The prosecutor wanted to ask him about his condition since the incident, about his suicide attempt, but Judge Sarit Zamir, who had received Moussa's medical records, would allow this only for the sentencing hearing. Then it was the defense attorney's turn.

“What did you know about the riots?” asked attorney Israel Klein, who is representing Botier. “There was chaos in Ramle and Lod, and I didn’t get involved and it didn’t interest me,” Moussa replied.

Another 10 attorneys for the defendants were there with Klein. Throughout the two hearings one week apart, the lawyers helped each other, whispering something to the defense attorney questioning Moussa so that nothing would be missed. They had one goal: Defame Moussa and support their claim that the suspects believed he was on his way to commit violence.

Klein asked Moussa what he was doing in the hours before the attack. Why was it that half an hour after midnight, about 20 hours before the attack, he was near Jerusalem and Gush Etzion in the West Bank and stayed there until 4 P.M.? Moussa explained that he was visiting his wife’s parents, but for a moment he seemed unsure of himself.

“Maybe I went to visit my sisters,” Moussa said, confused. “What do you mean ‘maybe’?” Klein responded. “You come to dangerous areas, the most incendiary place in the country, and you say ‘maybe’?”

Moussa’s stammered explanations on his decision to leave Jaffa also didn't cut it. “If I hear that there’s a missile, I start to get scared,” Klein said. “But you say that in such a situation you chose to pick up hitchhikers and drive them to the promenade in Bat Yam?” Klein then focused on the identity of Moussa's two passengers.

Moussa said that, with air raid sirens going off, he didn’t want to abandon
people asking for help. Klein wasn't impressed. “First you arrive at night to an area where riots are going on [Jerusalem], then you arrive at a place where the whole country knows riots are going on, the Bat Yam promenade,” Klein said. “Is there a reason for this coincidence?”

Judge Zamir allowed it. The prosecutor rarely objected, and even when she did, it was overruled. After the recess the defense attorney repeated the same line of questioning. He mentioned the march in Lod “when they burned Israeli flags, and thousands of people walked through the streets and threw pieces of glass at Jewish homes and set flags on fire. It was called the march of the Nazis. … People were advised to stay home and not go out.”

Moussa said he didn’t know about this; he only saw one small demonstration. “Did that scare you?” Klein asked. “We’re talking about the atmosphere of fear that prevailed, that if somebody drove at people, they'd be convinced somebody was trying to run them over.”

On his own

Moussa isn't a good witness. He stammers, swallows his words, and sometimes goes silent. His memory is fragmented and there are contradictions in his testimony. In court, he tended to contradict the testimony he gave the police in the hospital a day after the attack. Even the simplest questions crossed him up.

“On June 13 did you meet with Karmani, [the prosecutor]?” he was asked by attorney Moshe Souhami, who is representing Saban. That’s a basic, procedural question designed to pave the way to important questions, but Moussa remained silent for long seconds until he answered no.

“It’s a fact, it happened,” the surprised Souhami said. “Do you remember what you told her about blocking the roads?” Moussa has no idea that the meeting took place.

A moment before the end of the first day of questioning, Suhami asked Moussa where he was born. In the West Bank, Moussa replied. “Are you an Israeli citizen?” Suhami asked, and Moussa said yes. “So how are you an Israeli?” was the next question.

Infuriated, Karmani objected, but Judge Zamir allowed it – though Moussa wasn't required to answer. “I’m not willing to answer that in the courtroom; I’m willing to tell the judge in writing only,” Moussa said, looking exhausted.

Moussa arrived an hour late for the second day of questioning; he had forgotten about it. Next week he will testify again, and later again in Binyman's attempted murder case. “This is the first time I've left my house in months,” he told Haaretz in the courtroom. Nine months ago he tried to kill himself.

Moussa is a proud man who wasn't flustered by the fact that he didn't impress the court. But the attempts to portray him as a liar drove him crazy. The first day of questioning was cut short after a friend saw that he was in distress and told him not to answer any more questions after the question – and subsequent uproar – about his citizenship. But the second day was even more brutal.

Attorney Suhami seems to be exploiting Moussa’s vulnerability. “Do you understand that in the courtroom you have to tell the truth?” he asked Moussa. Another time, Suhami said: “I want to treat you like a person who understands what he’s being asked. Tell me if you don’t.”

He added sarcastically: “I’m not misleading you, you’re misleading yourself – and you’re doing a great job.”

The defense lawyer also said: “You said that you went out to have a fun day in Bat Yam, and you certainly didn’t have fun in Bat Yam.” But the prosecution made very few objections. Moussa was on his own.

With every question in the cross-examination, Moussa was pushed to the brink of a breakdown, but everybody else in the courtroom looked comfortable. The defendants' friends smiled and sometimes joked at every mistake Moussa made. “Nu, attorney Suhami, we started late,” Judge Zamir said in an attempt to speed up the proceedings.

Suhami, enjoying his success, sharpened his attacks. “The woman you gave a ride to, was there anything special about her?” Moussa was angry at the question. “They were ordinary people,” he replied. “A person asks for help, I help.” It’s not clear how this question served the defendant, but Suhami found another contradiction in Moussa’s testimony.

One time Moussa said he had dropped off one of the hitchhikers at the Jaffa-Bat Yam border, and another time he said it was Salame Road. “How is that possible, why did you say that, why do you have to lie?” the attorney accused him – until Moussa lost it.

Suhami did not respond to Haaretz's requests for comment.

Later, during the recess called by the judge, Moussa sat in the courthouse yard and smoked a cigarette. “For money they sell the truth, the lawyers,” he said. “They want to make me look like a terrorist.” And he realized that there was a difference between his versions of the story. “Of course there’s a difference,” he said.

“Has anybody not seen the video?” he asked. “During the first investigation I was groggy in a hospital; I don’t remember what I said. Since my release I’ve been getting pills from the doctor so I can forget, for my nerves.”

He has had problems with his memory since the attack. “I forget a lot,” he said, and fell silent once again. “Even now I’ve forgotten why I left the courtroom,” he added, and asked: “Why did I leave, actually?”

Klein, the defense attorney, told Haaretz that “from the first moment the journalists – some of whom have become witnesses for the prosecution – has tried to dictate the populist narrative in the case, and the state prosecutor has fallen in line accordingly. The defense's job is to expose the truth, even if those who dictate the narrative aren’t happy about it.

“During the trial the defense wanted to find out why the complainant lied at many points of his testimony. ... Today, when every other day there’s a car-ramming attack, the state prosecutor and the newspapers don’t understand that the defendants who were on the promenade feared for their lives because they were convinced it was a ramming attack.”

The court system said: “The court has an obligation to enable the defendants to conduct their defense while preserving the dignity of the complainants and the witnesses. That was done in this case as well, and these things are reflected in the minutes.”

Israeli Court Extends Detention of Two Jewish Suspects in Bat Yam Mob Attack

Six people have been arrested over the assault of Said Moussa, who was seriously injured in the attack

by Bar Peleg for Haaretz
May 27, 2021

An Israeli court has extended to Sunday the detention of two Jewish suspects in the mob attack two weeks ago on an Arab man in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

Six people have been arrested in the assault of Said Moussa, who was seriously injured in the attack.

A police representative told the court the suspects kicked the victim in the face, and that one, Shay Simhon, continued to kick him after he passed out. The suspects face charges that include criminal conspiracy and assault and battery.

Simhon is currently doing community service after previous convictions for violent offenses. He admitted to taking part in the assault, after initially denying his participation even after police showed him a video where he can be seen attacking Moussa.

Simhon told detectives he assaulted Moussa after hearing people shout “terrorist.” A police representative said Simhon had said that he’d wanted to save the country by foiling a terror attack.

The second suspect said that he was on his way to his mother-in-law who lives right near the site of the attack. Police say he was apprehended based on the clothing he was wearing at the scene. His lawyer argued that videos of the attack, which police have used to help identify suspects, show him arriving at the end of the incident.

A policeman testified that the suspect was there the whole time, adding that he had kicked the victim numerous times, even though the man was lying on the ground motionless.

Judge Christina Hilo Sa’ad said there was reasonable suspicion regarding the assault, but that evidence of conspiring to commit a crime was less convincing at this point.

Zohar Barzilai said that his client, the suspect whose name is still under a gag order, is from a respectable family and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Like hundreds of other people, Barzilai said, his client ran toward the site of the regrettable incident but did not participate in the violence. He told the police he repudiated all violence.

“I’m sure he will be released soon,” Barzilai said. The lawyer for the other suspect said that the suspect’s identity was known to investigators three days before his arrest, and he wasn’t disputing that fact. The suspect had gotten himself into a tight spot and gave a version which needed to be checked. This could help sort things out, said the attorney.

2021 lynching of Said Moussa in Bat Yam tried in court 11/9/2022
2021 lynching of Said Moussa in Bat Yam tried in court 11/9/2022
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