An investigation into the death of Ariel Newman, 18, a Great Neck graduate who went to Israel for a yeshiva gap year program, was reopened for a second time last week under orders from Israel’s deputy chief prosecutor for criminal affairs Shlomo Lemberger.
Newman’s parents, Mark and Ellen, have pursued a negligent homicide case against former officers and guides of the program since their son’s death from an exertional heatstroke while hiking in Israel’s Judean Desert as part of a yeshiva gap-year program in 2014.
They have framed the case as a fight for justice and better safety standards in Israel, despite seemingly uncooperative prosecutors.
“The whole point is we need, and Israeli needs, its own Israeli system to say that what happened was wrong, not acceptable, [and] must never happen again,” Mark Newman said in an interview following the investigation was re-opened again. “Therefore the implication is, at a minimum, steps are taken to ensure it never happens again.”
“Again, I’m not necessarily looking for prison time at all. I’m looking for a criminal conviction so a message can be sent to Israeli society,” Newman added.
Amos Fried, a Jerusalem-based attorney representing the Newmans, told the Jerusalem Post that this was “a most astounding and unexpected development” and that their original Dec. 10 meeting date with Lemberger will be postponed.
Police and prosecutors first opened an investigation in May 2015, after Amos Fried, the Newman family’s lawyer, met with Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The district attorney for Israel’s Southern District then closed the case due to “insufficient evidence” in November 2016, prompting the Newmans to appeal to the Israeli state attorney’s office in December 2016.
That office ordered police to reopen the investigation July 17, 2017.
This followed two articles in the Jerusalem Post reporting that police did not interview two key witnesses, who said a tour guide pushed Newman to continue the hike even though he said “I feel like I’m going to die,” or challenge the guide before closing the case.
The tour guide claimed that Newman expressed no concerns during the hike.
The Newmans said via email that police also “did not meaningfully cross-interrogate anyone,” interview more relevant people, and that the suspects “knowingly” broke laws and rules by not having someone with a medic license or Ministry of Tourism tour guide license present during the hike.
The Newmans said the police commander had expressed interest in redoing the investigation into their son’s death in August, but that the state attorney’s office allegedly ordered police to “cease and desist.”
Newman said that he doesn’t “want to be optimistic or not optimistic.”
“As far as projecting going forward, I have to be cautiously optimistic. But because of the evidence, I don’t trust them,” Newman said. “The proof will be in the pudding.”