Israeli convicted of murders in Duma terror attack

The arson attack on the Palestinian Dawabshe family home killed 18-month-old Ali and his parents, Sa’ad and Riham.

By Yonah Jeremy Bob, JPOST MAY 18, 2020 10:08

Amiram Ben-Uliel appears at Lod District Court ahead of his conviction in the Duma arson case, May 18, 2020 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

Amiram Ben-Uliel appears at Lod District Court ahead of his conviction in the Duma arson case, May 18, 2020 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

The Lod District Court on Monday convicted Amiram Ben Uliel in the 2015 Jewish terror arson murders of three Palestinians in Duma.

The arson attack on the Palestinian Dawabshe family home killed 18-month-old Ali and his parents, Sa’ad and Riham and destabilized Israeli-Arab relations throughout the region.

The court also acquitted Ben Uliel of membership in a terror group.

Asher Ohayon, the lead lawyer for Ben Uliel, vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, saying that the court had wrongfully accepted confessions given post-torture.

The court said that even though it disqualified confessions Ben Uliel gave when the Shin Bet used enhanced interrogation on him, his confessions given 36-hours later were given freely and compelling.

Further, the court said it was convinced by Ben Uliel’s voluntary physical reconstruction of the crime at the scene of the murders.

In addition, the court cited negative statements made by a minor-co-conspirator against Ben Uliel as well as Ben Uliel’s refusal to testify in his own defense.

Ohayon responded to a question from The Jerusalem Post about the fact that the Supreme Court has been very accepting of enhanced interrogation confessions during the last three years saying there was no parallel.

He also said that Ben Uliel had been “tortured far worse than any Palestinian.”

The Dawabshe family responded to the decision saying that it is important for justice to be done so no one else’s lives will be ruined and destroyed like the three murdered Dawabshes.

Supporters for Ben Uliel yelled at the court, “how can you convict an innocent person” and had to be silenced by security guards.

The sentencing hearing was set for June 9.

For months after the murder, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) performed a massive manhunt and investigation, but turned up empty-handed.

Former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen has told the Post that he fundamentally altered the entire approach toward Jewish terrorism against Palestinians, taking a much harder stance and investing far more resources.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon made frequent statements about the severity of the incident, and assured regional partners in the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and globally of their commitment to bringing the perpetrators to justice.

When the Shin Bet finally apprehended Amiram Ben-Uliel, then 21, the alleged murderer of the Dawabshes, as well as a minor who was accused of conspiring with Ben-Uliel regarding the murders, the situation was viewed as so desperate that they used torture/enhanced interrogation to get the defendants to confess.

This ushered in a whole new side and saga to the case, as suddenly enhanced interrogation, administrative detention and other extreme measures were being used not only against Palestinians, as in the past, but also against Jews.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich and activist Itamar Ben-Gvir have accused the Shin Bet and prosecution of massive overreaction and injustice in the treatment of Ben-Uliel and the minor.

Joint List Party leader Ayman Odeh and other Arab activists have demanded that harsh justice be meted out to Ben-Uliel, if Israel is to avoid accusations that it cracks down harder on Palestinian terrorism than on Jewish terrorism.

IN JANUARY 2016, then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein and then-head state prosecutor Shai Nitzan personally approved the indictments filed by prosecutors Rahel Avisar and Yael Atzmon.

From the indictment in January 2016 until June 2018, there was a pretrial minitrial over whether the defendants had been tortured or only exposed to “moderate pressure,” which is sometimes permitted in Israel to prevent a potential impending terrorist attack.

The decision in that minitrial did not automatically decide the innocence or guilt of the defendants.

However, it signaled the direction in which the court was leaning, and was a bombshell in the wider debate about the Shin Bet using enhanced interrogation and other measures on Jews accused of terrorism or more violent price-tag actions.

The June 2018 Lod District Court decision by judges Ruth Lorch, Tsvi Dotan and Dvora Atar confirmed the validity of key confessions of Ben-Uliel, giving the prosecution a strong chance to convict, while disqualifying key confessions given by the case’s minor defendant.

The mixed decision also disqualified some of the main defendant’s confessions made while, and 36 hours after, enhanced interrogation was used on him.

Overall, the Justice Ministry and the Shin Bet emerged with a strong lead toward winning their flagship fighting-Jewish-terrorism case against Ben-Uliel.

However, as the court declined to rule on whether the Shin Bet tortured or used legal enhanced interrogation, future rough treatment of Jewish extremists was still up in the air, and the multiple disqualifications hit the Shin Bet like a ton of bricks.

Regarding the minor defendant, he was eventually convicted for lesser price-tag attacks and a vague role in the Duma case, but was acquitted of most of the serious Duma charges.

After the decision, Cohen, who retired from the Shin Bet in the middle of the case, said that the agency would need to make tactical adjustments in the treatment of Jewish terrorism suspects.

Since the June 2018 decision and a later decision about mistreatment and manipulation of a defendant accused of a price-tag attack, the Shin Bet ceased using enhanced interrogation and administrative detention on Jews.

According to the Duma indictment, Ben Uliel and the minor had discussed in June 2015 ways they could take revenge on Palestinians following the murder of Malachi Rosenfeld.

The two planned one attack on Duma and another on the Majdal village nearby, hoping to murder the residents of houses in those locations.

Ben-Uliel prepared a backpack with two Molotov cocktails full of gasoline, a lighter, matches, gloves, and spray paint.

On July 30, 2015, Ben-Uliel left his house wearing heavy clothing and with the backpack to meet with the minor at Yishuv Hada’at.

When the minor did not show (something that the prosecution has never explained), and after Ben-Uliel had waited for a while, he decided to perpetrate the terrorist attack on his own.

The indictment said that Ben-Uliel reached Duma and then tied part of a shirt around his face to function as a mask obscuring his identity and donned the gloves. He spray-painted “revenge” and “long live the Messiah” on the walls of a house, which he attacked with a Molotov cocktail – but no one was there.

Next, he moved on to the Dawabshe house, failing to burn it with one Molotov cocktail due to two closed windows, but succeeding in burning it down when he found a third window.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Atzmon noted that in the many interrogations Ben-Uliel underwent, there were points where he confessed to the arson murder, and that he also reconstructed the crime scene at Duma.

In addition, the prosecution pointed out that Ben-Uliel declined to testify in the trial, which is usually held against a defendant.

Moreover, Atzmon argued that incriminating statements by the minor coconspirator of Ben-Uliel should count against him.

Essentially, the prosecution said that Ben-Uliel should be convicted because his confession and reconstruction were too detailed to have been given by someone who had not perpetrated the crime.

Regarding inconsistent details, the prosecution offered alternate explanations that kept the focus on Ben-Uliel, such as that the Palestinian witness who saw two people possibly saw two villagers who beat him to the scene to see what was happening, after Ben-Uliel had fled.

May 18, 2020 | 56 Comments » | 495 views

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6 Comments / 56 Comments

  1. @ Bear Klein:
    I don’t understand Hebrew but I watched enough of the video to see that it just followed him on his route to the house and explained what he allegedly did. The camera focused on his legs, much of the time, otherwise, we just saw an alley by a wall. I remember reading at the time, that the house was in the middle of the village, and the exact location of the bedroom of the individual being targeted by the other clan was firebombed, the Hebrew was misspelled in a way that a non-Hebrew speaker might, and the family fled to another town was targeted again. Maybe it was one of the other cases? In any case, it’s clear that they were out to get these three boys. And, it happened right after the case of the three abducted Jewish teens that united the country in outrage. It seems that whenever there is widespread outrage against crimes against Jews, some other case is blown up into the public eye to distract attention away. Remember the massacre of the Marseille Yeshiva children and rabbi? After three days, suddently the Trayvon Martin case was made into a cause celebre, while it was still being investigated, and divided the U.S., even families.

  2. @ Bear Klein:
    And you believe the judges? Do you not think the court is a left-wing partisan institution? Do you not have a problem with Aharon Barak’s legal revolution? Do you think Shaked was wasting her time reining in the court? Incidentally, I saw much of the video, though I don’t understand Hebrew. It was clear that he was saying what he did as he retraced the route. But, he could easily have been coached. If they used torture on him and the other defendants, with impunity, why would you believe he wasn’t coached? As in the Moscow Show Trials, all they have to do is threaten his family, and future torture for him to get cooperation. Or, as in the same Moscow Show Trials, they can promise that they will go easy on him if he tells them what they want to hear, that it’s just a formality. Isn’t it relevant that the other defendants were released because of bogus tactics like this that they couldn’t hide?

  3. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    I understand you will never believe the guy guilty. I do not believe judges in Israel are primarily political. Yes the Supreme Court has had over reached and been too active. Yes many judges are left wing. Are all NO. Does that mean a judge who leans left will not give someone a fair trial, not at all.

    I believe in Shaked desired changes for the most part.

    My impression of Israeli Criminal Courts in general in Israel is that the judges try to and get to the truth of what happen. This is based on going to trials. The judges will also at times ask witnesses questions to try and find the truth. Since there are no jury trials it is hard for defense attorneys to muddy up the waters like they do in US trials to create reasonable doubt.

    I remember a simple petty theft case I viewed one time. The defendant was a new immigrant from Georgia (former Soviet Union). He was using a translator. He kept interrupting the translator to correct them supposedly. The judge got tired of this and asked the defendant do you need a translator or not. The defendant was using the translator sort of as a shield to try and hide his lies. The judge asked the defendant a few questions and it strongly looked he was lying and had committed the theft.

    The Israeli system is not even close to perfect. Neither is the US system which allows countless criminals and guilty people to walk around. Technicalities will get someone clearly guilty off in the USA. That is less likely to happen in Israel.

    Conflating what the Supreme Court does at times Judicial Activism (not all the time) with trial courts in Israel is a mistake and lacks understanding of Israeli Courts.

  4. @ Sebastien Zorn: My final comments on this subject I believe until the Supreme Court reviews the case.

    Shaked’s revised system of picking judges by the way got many “right-wing judges” onto both the Supreme Court and lower trial courts.

    I very much refrain from deciding someone is guilty or innocent unless I first hand can see all the evidence. Trial by media is a horrible thing and very unfair. I experienced first hand what I read in the paper about a criminal incident is not even remotely true because I was involved in the actual investigation and did not recognize what I read was a fluffed up grossly exaggerated piece of creative writing (in the USA).

    Based on the video (primarily) and that the defendant did not personally refute the confession I tend to believe he is very likely the one who burned down the house and committed the murders. That I said, I do NOT believe in torture and would like to hear the Supreme Court’s review of the case and if they believe that the reenactment and previous confession were in fact coerced.

    Israel in Security Cases with terrorists does use psychological methods to extract information very successfully. Sometimes this might be bribes such as a relative needs an operation Israel can provide or help the family to relocate. Other times it maybe fear of the arrest of a family member. This stuff may not be pretty but it is effective. Much more than waterboarding or other such physical stress. Israel closes down many terror cells with this type of general approach.

    This I believe is mostly not valid to use on Jewish Suspects unless they are true terror suspects and not graffiti artists using slogans.

    Israel for the most part does a good job balancing individual civil rights and security needs. Israel and the USA both base their criminal law on English Common Law and enacted legislation. The US tips the scales very very much to the side of suspects and defendants. So much so that clearly guilty people repeat crimes including murders and rapes with impunity. The FBI moves out of the way and allows terrorist suspects to wander around freely to eventually strike or plan actions. Israel does just the opposite it will profile and monitors Facebook sites for terrorist actions that are about to occur and prevents them in many cases. This would never fly in the USA.

    So two different countries,on different parts of the globe. Israel is far safer than the USA but people do have less civil rights in contrast. One can not understand Israel by reading English on-line publications. To understand Israel truly one needs to live in Israel for at least a few years.

    Israel’s political system needs a constitution in order to greatly improve the separation of powers clearly.

  5. That “36” hours seems to PROVE guilt by judges’ own admission– Judges are not simple; even if political and not judicial yet they say that the “36” hours prove guilt-

    It takes longer to get over a hangover or simple cold- How long does it take to get over 4 years of cruel, inhuman imprisonment and torture so that one can testify without fear, especially when being also threatened from the “off stage wings”

    A LIFETIME– !!!

    36 hours- torture stops 6 am Monday —6 0pm Tuesday is 36 hours, fit and hppy no doubt after an angelic “undisturbed” sleep on Monday night—

  6. @ Edgar G.:
    “from the Soviet Era and ex Russian areas: still heavily influenced” Based on this logic, the German olim brought with them Prussian militarism and Hitlerism.

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