Ami Popper (born 1969) is an Israeli serving a 40-year prison sentence for murdering seven Palestinian day-laborers in what is widely regarded as an act of Jewish terrorism.
On May 20, 1990, Popper, a dishonorably-discharged soldier, put on Israel Defense Forces uniform trousers, stolen from his brother, an active duty soldier. He also stole his brother’s assault rifle and five ammunition clips. He then spotted a group of Arab day-laborers at a bus stop in the city of Rishon Letzion. Suspecting they were Arab, he demanded to see their identity cards. After confirming they were Arabs he lined them up and opened fire, killing seven. Within an hour, he was arrested.
After his act, Palestinians rioted, and Israeli security forces killed seven rioters and injured about 700 more.
Popper first told police that his attacks was a reaction to the First Intifada, later claiming to have been distraught because his girlfriend had decided to leave him. He also stated that he had been raped by an Arab when he was 13 and had committed these killings out of shame and a desire for revenge.
Imprisonment and aftermath
Immediately after Popper’s arrest, then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir described him as insane. However, he was later found sane and fit for trial. The Friday after the shootings, a news feature in the weekend supplement of the mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot newspaper interviewed a group of his neighborhood friends who praised his character and expressed admiration for his actions.
Popper was charged and convicted of seven acts of murder in March 1991. In prison he became religious and in June 1993 he married a Canadian-Jewish woman from a family of activists in the late Meir Kahane’s Kach movement. Popper and his wife were granted conjugal visits, and they had three children.
On 17 January 2007, while on a 48-hour furlough from prison, Popper was involved in a car accident he caused by crossing a solid line, hitting oncoming traffic. His wife and one of his sons were killed in the accident. Popper himself was moderately injured. Police reported that Popper’s driver’s license had expired in 1999, and that he was driving illegally without a license. Initial reports indicate Popper’s children were not wearing seatbelts in the backseat.
Popper was initially imprisoned in Maasiyahu Prison, and was placed in the Torani cellblock, a special cellblock for religious inmates. Prisoners there pray four times a day and spend most of the day studying sacred texts.
At one point, his cellmate was former minister Shlomo Benizri. After Benizri’s release, Popper’s influence in the Torani bloc grew, and he began harassing former President Moshe Katsav, serving a seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual offenses, due him having denied his request for a pardon while he was in office. According to the Israel Prison Service, Popper had verbally abused Katsav and sent other inmates to harass him. In October 2012, Popper was transferred to the maximum-security Ayalon Prison.
In February 1999 Popper’s sentence was commuted from seven life terms to 40 years. Currently he is eligible for parole in 2023, after 33 years in prison.
Popper came to be regarded by right-wing activists as a political prisoner. Right wing and Orthodox politicians in Israel have demanded his release along with other Israeli prisoners who were convicted of murder or other violence committed against Palestinians, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners who committed murder or violence against Israelis.
Popper later remarried and then divorced. In May 2013, Popper married his third wife; a woman known only as “M” who had previously gained headlines by allowing the cult leader and self-described rabbi Elior Chen to severely abuse her children. The couple was married in a small ceremony in Jerusalem, after Popper was granted a prison furlough.