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)
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.