Israel Clamping Down on Jewish Terror - but Not Tightly Enough

Israeli security services have cracked other cases involving arson attacks by Jewish extremists, but those who set fire to a home in Duma, killing a baby and his parents, are apparently still at large.

Olivier Fitoussi

The death of Reham Dawabsheh, a little over a month after the terror attack in which her baby, Ali, and her husband, Saad, were killed has not elicited the same sense of shock on the part of the Israeli public as did the initial news of the arson attack on the family’s home in the West Bank village of Duma in late July.

True, the country’s leadership has issued a new series of condemnations of what seems, according to all indications, to have been a murderous act of terror committed by Jewish terrorists. But as of now, even with just one member of the family, four-year-old Ahmed, left alive, no progress has been reported in the investigation itself, which is being conducted by the Shin Bet security service unit that deals with Jewish suspects, assisted by the Israel Police. As far as we know, the murderers are still at large.

Coincidently or not, shortly after Dawabsheh died, a gag order was lifted Monday on a report that the Shin Bet had recently arrested two extreme right-wing activists for a similar act of arson in a Bedouin community not far from the place of the murder northeast of Ramallah. The two, who have been indicted, are 18-year-old Avraham Gafni, and an unnamed 16-year old, both residents of an outpost called Givat Habaladim, in the Binyamin region of the West Bank. The Shin Bet has already earmarked the outpost as one of the key places where Jewish extremists are organizing — and as the residence of some of those allegedly involved in the murder of the Dawabsheh family.

According to the indictment, Gafni and the minor set fire to a tent in which a large quantity of equipment was stored, but no one was sleeping there on the night of the fire. The Bedouin family whose property was burned said that the week before people had been sleeping in the tent. The indictment has charged the pair with arson, threats and obstruction of justice, and not with murder.

Because there has been no breakthrough in the investigation of the Dawabsheh family’s murder, it is still unclear whether those who perpetrated the attack in Duma knew that a family was sleeping in the house to which they set fire. But according to the Shin Bet, this group, the heart of which is in the outposts in the northern West Bank’s Shiloh Valley and slightly to the south, is almost indifferent to the outcome of its acts.

The group, which began organizing at the end of 2014, has a threshold of violence that is higher than that of most Jewish terrorists until now. Injuring Palestinians is perceived by this group as a logical, perhaps even desirable outcome of their actions.

The ideological common denominator

There is a common denominator between Duma and the second incident, not only in the way the actions were carried out, but also in the way the acts very closely recall statements in “The Kingdom of Evil,” a document written by one of the main suspects in this group, Moshe Orbach.

Orbach himself has been remanded until the end of proceedings against him on suspicion of involvement in the arson attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes on Lake Kinneret. Since the murder in Duma, Meir Ettinger, a grandson of assassinated right-wing extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, has been in administrative detention, along with two others. Ettinger is described as a key figure, if not the head, of the group. Restraining orders, or orders requiring suspects to remain in their homes after dark, have been issued against 15 other suspects, most of them residents of the northern West Bank.

However the state has probably not managed to totally deter these people. According to the Shin Bet and the prosecution, Gafni and the minor set fire to the tent on August 13, about two weeks after the arson and murders in Duma. The second attack was in fact probably aimed at deterring the security establishment and the prosecution from issuing more administrative detention orders. The fact that the suspects were caught relatively quickly apparently shows that the authorities have tightened their surveillance of the group following the murder.

A gag order is still in force about many of the details of the investigation, despite the cracking of the case of the second attack and the indictment. What is clear is that relatively sophisticated means were employed to catch those responsible for the terror attacks.

Major efforts were also required to crack the case of the arson attack on the Lake Kinneret church, which occurred around the time of the murder at Duma. It's certain that similar methods are now being employed to find the murderers who perpetrated the attack in Duma. But in this case, the damage is already done, and it may be assumed that the suspects are taking even greater precautions to evade capture.