By Dan Williams
LOD, Israel (Reuters) – An Israeli woman faced off in court on Sunday with a Palestinian who had confessed to stabbing her, in a case that suggested the swirl of political and personal motives that can drive such attacks.
Malek Saada, a 20-year-old from the occupied West Bank, was working illegally as a baker in Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab town south of Tel Aviv, when, a year ago, he ambushed Revital Danino outside her home, moderately wounding her before fleeing.
Captured by Israeli police, court papers showed, Saada confessed to the attack and said he had “purified himself” in advance at a mosque and targeted Danino because she was wearing religious Jewish garb.
“(The attack) was definitely nationalistic in nature,” Saada’s lawyer, Alaa Tellawi, told Reuters, reiterating what he described as his client’s position from the outset.
Testifying at the opening of Saada’s trial, Danino, a 45-year-old school principal, raised another possible factor in the attack: drink.
“When he was close to me, he had a smell of alcohol, but his behavior was very decisive,” she told the three judges, as Saada sat slumped in the dock, watching impassively.
Officials on both sides have said a wave of Palestinian street attacks that began in 2015 stemmed from a volatile combination of political tensions in the conflict with Israel and personal problems suffered by some of the assailants.
“He had murder in his eyes,” Danino said, short of breath, her face flushed. “I curled up by instinct, and felt his knife slipping from my neck and further down, to where I was stabbed.”
“I elbowed him and apparently it was then that he dropped the knife and ran away,” she added, holding up a sweater, perforated between the shoulders, that she said she had been wearing on the evening of the attack.
Saada did not address the court. Tellawi said his client did not dispute the events described in the indictment, but the lawyer also suggested that while Saada had a political motive, personal emotions linked to his conservative Muslim background also came into play.
“This is a young man who, while in Lod, drank alcohol, behavior that his father learned about. When he asked his father to arrange for him to marry the woman he loved, his father refused,” Tellawi told Reuters.
“That led my client to wake up one day and say, ‘I’ve had it with this life,’ and to find a Jew to attack.”
Tellawi said his client had “thrown away” the knife after stabbing Danino once – a possible suggestion that Saada had second thoughts about killing her.
The court adjourned until April 26. Tellawi said his client wanted to consider how to respond to the main charge filed against him – attempted murder during a terrorist act.
Wrapping up her testimony, Danino turned to the defendant and said her survival showed that “my God is strong, my faith is stronger than the power of your hand”.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Evans)