The wheels of justice grind slowly, but last week, at the conclusion of a three-year-long trial, the Beersheva Magistrates' Court convicted a missionary leader who assaulted a Yad L'Achim activist in Arad and tried to run him over with a car.
Arad, a town of 23,000 residents, was targeted by missionaries hoping that its remote location in southern Israel, near the Dead Sea, would give them freedom to operate unhindered by the chareidi community.
But, to their dismay, Yad L'Achim activists and local religious residents have for the past six years appeared daily to protest outside the missionaries' center near the city market.
Frustrated by this completely legal activity, which succeeded in alerting Jews as to the real intentions of the friendly, smiling missionaries who welcomed them into the center with a variety of enticements, the missionaries grew violent.
In one incident a few years ago, which stunned the local chareidi community, a missionary brutally attacked Harav Ben Zion Lipsker, of blessed memory, the Rav of the city. In another incident, a missionary barged into a soup kitchen in Arad run by chareidim and used a billy club to smash the head of the person in charge. In the latter case, the assailant was sentenced to house arrest and barred from the city market for a month.
But without doubt, the most egregious assault occurred in February 2007, when Eddie Beckford, who is in charge of missionary activities in the city, tried to run over a group of Yad L'Achim activists. When he failed, he charged out of his car and violently attacked one of the activists.
The victim filed a police complaint and Beckford was barred from the city for 45 days, during which time an indictment was prepared against him.
In a trial that saw many ups and downs, the main evidence against Beckford was a film of the events, clearly showing the attempt to run over the activists and the assault, and an eye witness who was flown in from London.
Prosecutors were initially not convinced that there was a need to bring in the eyewitness, since the film provided solid evidence, but the Gerrer Rebbe, who was consulted, strongly advised bringing him in. The flight was arranged and paid for by Yad L'Achim and the eye-witness testimony proved to be crucial in obtaining the conviction.
The witness took the stand and described in great detail the violent attack. He told how he had arrived at the site in February 2007 together with other activists and how Beckford tried to run them over with his car, and then physically pursued and attacked one of them. He skillfully answered all the questions that were put to him, by the prosecution and the defense, transmitting an air of impeccable credibility.
Throughout the trial, Beckford denied the charges, confidently claiming that no attack took place. His confidence cracked, however, when the prosecution produced the film of the event, setting off bedlam in the courtroom.
In the film, Beckford is seen chasing a key activist and delivering a blow to his face. Afterwards he enters his car and begins driving wildly in the direction of a group of activists in a clear attempt to run them over. When they managed to escape the car, he disembarks and chases them on foot, catching one and kicking him brutally.
Beckford's attorney, in a desperate attempt to preserve what was left of his client's credibility, jumped up and screamed that the film had been edited.
The judge, Esther Chaviv, rejected the claim out of hand, on the grounds that the film had been corroborated by the eye-witness testimony.
The defense then acknowledged that Beckford was behind the wheel of the car, but offered the lame excuse that he had not intended to run anyone over. When that fell on deaf ears, they tried to claim that the action was taken in self defense.
As their case dissolved in the face of solid evidence, the defense team asked for a break and then returned to the court offering a guilty plea. The judge accepted the plea and set a court date in the near future to announce a pre-sentencing hearing.
In hindsight, bringing the eyewitness from London proved decisive. His authoritative, detailed testimony became the foundation of the prosecution's case, lending added credibility to the film.
In response to the verdict, Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz, chairman of Yad L'Achim, said: "Once again it was proven that the missionaries don’t desist from violence in their attempt to attain their goals. We will continue to stand guard and disrupt their activities in every way possible in order to save innocent Jewish souls from falling into their grasp."
Harav Lifschitz had warm praise for the chariedi community in Arad who for many years have fought with enormous dedication to save Jews from being converted out of their religion.