Hassan and Ahmad al-Ramek, cousins from the Bedouin clan Azazma, were indicted Wednesday in the Beersheba Magistrates Court for causing NIS 8.7 million (about $2.3 million) worth of damages to Avdat National Park as an act of revenge against the demolition of their family's house.
The indictment claims that the two arrived in a Toyota pick-up truck at Avdat, where they met two others, whose identity remains unknown, carrying hammers and paint supplies. They allegedly knocked over and smashed columns, some with the help of a rope tied to their car.
They also allegedly smashed original and reconstructed walls near the shrine and the churches, causing irreparable damage to antique objects such as pillars, ornamented writings, and original stone floors. They smashed arches and artworks in the Byzantine living quarters. In addition, they allegedly painted entire sections of walls at the historic site.
The two are indicted for conspiring to commit a crime, damaging an antiquities site, damaging and destroying antiquities, carrying out a forbidden act at a historical site, and damaging a national park. Hassan al-Ramek is also indicted for driving without a valid drivers' license.
In the request to extend the two suspects' remand until the end of the proceedings, it was written: "The background for the vandalism stems from the demolition of (their) relatives' home, and his actions are an act of revenge of a nationalistic nature. The defendants thought it proper to damage the State and the public via its national assets of historic and cultural value because of legal government enforcement."
Paint on their hands
A day prior to the vandalism of Avdat, some Bedouin houses were demolished in the area. This sent up a warning flag for the investigators. "We marked the people and little by little we got to the defendants," said Negev Central Commander Yossi Cohen.
The security video from a nearby gas station proved very helpful to the investigators. The defendants could be seen on tape with traces of paint on their hands. The paint on their hands was very similar to the left behind at the site by the vandals.
The investigators noticed paint stains spilled next to the gas station and on the shirt of one of the defendants that seemed like attempts had been made to wash them off. A lab examination matched the paint to the paint sprayed on the columns and walls at Avdat.
At first, the two defendants refused to cooperate with the investigators, but one of them later broke down, admitted to the charges against him, and started cooperating with the police.
Cohen added: "We worked with people who have no respect for the law, that don't take it into account."
Cohen noted that despite the magnitude of the historical and monetary damage the two allegedly wreaked on the site, neither of the two understood the severity of their actions. "They simply did not understand the significance and the extent of the damage. They thought that it was just a wall, just a rock. They decided to damage the site because it belongs to the State."