Top Court Orders Release of Suspect Involved in West Bank Arson Murder of Palestinian Family

State appealed against the release of the man, who was a minor during the incident, in which a 18-months-old and his parents were murdered

Protest in support of right-wing activists accused of the Dawabsheh family murder in Duma.
Ilan Assayag

The Supreme Court has ordered the release with restrictions of A., accused of involvement in the murder in the West Bank village of Duma, the attorney for the accused said on Sunday. The ruling was handed down after the State Prosecutor’s Office appealed the District Court’s decision to release A., who was a minor at the time of the alleged crime, and who has been jailed for more than two years.

The court said the minor must wear an electronic ankle monitor, remain under house arrest and deposit a bond of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

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File photo: Photos of a one-and-a-half year old boy, Ali Dawabsheh, lie in a house that had been torched near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 31, 2015.

Zion Amir, the attorney representing the suspect, known as A., for the right-wing legal rights group Honenu, said: “Without a doubt the rejection of the state’s appeal was done legally and rightfully. Although it has taken two and a half years of difficult legal battling, we can take comfort in two things: the release from detention, and the court’s decision on the torture the minor underwent during his interrogation, as a result of which the confessions obtained were excluded.”

A., who was 17 when he was arrested, is accused of involvement in the murder of three members of the Dawabshe family in the firebombing of their home in July 2015. Eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was burned alive in the fire, while both his parents died from their injuries within weeks. He is not accused of murder because the prosecution could not prove that he was present in Duma on the night of the attack. He is also accused of involvement in the arson attack on the Dormition Church in Jerusalem and of other hate crimes.

In the ruling on his release, District Court Judge Ami Kobo wrote: “There is no dispute that the time that has passed in this case is significant... with the passage of the significant amount of time and the fact that the respondent was 17 years old at the time the offense was committed, the magnitude of the required considerations to justify changing [the conditions of] the detentions and the balance shifts from the public interest to the right of the respondent to liberty.”

The ruling notes that according to his parole officers, A. has undergone a “real change in thinking” during the time of his detention and has “expressed regret that in the past he did not listen to his parents’ advice, left school and wandered around with a group of his friends, acting without regard for the law.”

File photo: Photos of a one-and-a-half year old boy, Ali Dawabsheh, lie in a house that had been torched near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 31, 2015.

Justice Ofer Grosskopf wrote in the part of his ruling that was made public that the indictment charges the suspect with “a serious offense of membership in a terror organization whose goal is to induce a flare-up in a nationalist and interreligious context, among other means by injuring innocent Arabs, their property and sacred elements of Christians and Muslims.”

The judge noted that the suspect was also charged with hate crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank including arson and puncturing of tires of Palestinian vehicles. Grosskopf said the state’s claims – which for security reasons he agreed to hear behind closed doors – about the danger the suspect presented and whether he could be trusted, were not without merit.

However, in consideration of the lengthy detention and young age of the suspect he ruled that those matters would not hold sway, especially since the strength of the evidence might now undermine the possibility of a conviction in the case of the Duma arson and damage to the Dormition Church. Justice Grosskopf thus rejected the state’s appeal against the decision of the lower court. He also rejected an appeal by A.’s attorney against the conditions of his release.  

The District Court threw out A.’s concession of murder, obtained by the Shin Bet during interrogation using painful physical means. However, the prosecution believes it has enough strong evidence against him as well as against the key suspect in the case, Amiram Ben-Uliel, with circumstantial evidence that the prosecution calls a “theoretical confession,” during which A. described the events without using the first person. This is considered a low level of proof, but the prosecution believes it is enough for a conviction.

In addition, the court accepted A.’s confessions of involvement in other hate crimes.