TEL AVIV (Dec. 24)
Ami Popper pleaded guilty Sunday in Tel Aviv District Court to shooting to death seven Arabs and wounding 10 others near Rishon le-Zion last May.
The 21-year-old former Israel Defense Force recruit reversed his earlier not guilty plea, entered even though he had cooperated with police in a reconstruction of the crime.
He insisted the May 20 killings were not premeditated.
All of the victims were Palestinian day laborers from the Gaza Strip waiting at a pick-up point for their Israeli employers.
The shooting spree triggered large-scale rioting in the administered territories and appeals by Palestinians for international protection.
Popper was described as mentally ill at the time of his arrest. But court-appointed psychologists declared him competent to stand trial.
His defense lawyers, also court-appointed, have demanded more state funds to seek a new ruling on his mental state from “objective psychiatrists.”
The three-judge panel hearing the case was shown a videotape Monday of Popper’s re-enactment of the shootings.
He told police at the time that his motive was revenge for his alleged rape by an Arab when he was 13 while four other Arabs watched and laughed.
He claimed he recognized his assailant among the laborers “with almost complete certainty” after lying in wait all night near the pick-up point.
He said he emptied an entire magazine into the Arab who allegedly raped him and used four more magazines on the other workers, “in revenge for the laughter of those who had watched him being raped.”
Popper wore his brother’s IDF uniform during the shootings with an IDF-issue automatic rifle.
Popper’s girlfriend also testified in court, her identity protected by court order. She said she had broken off their relationship two weeks before the assault and that Popper had threatened suicide.
The witness said that the day after the murders, when Popper was being sought by police, he drove to her home in a car with license plates from the administered territories and told her he had “done something terrible.”
She testified Popper told her, “I shot seven Arabs to death in order to get close to you.”
The woman also said that during their friendship, Popper had told her about his rape by an Arab.