A court ruled Tuesday that most of the confessions by the main defendant in the 2015 arson murder of three members of a Palestinian family in the West Bank – and a minor involved – are legally admissible.
But the Central District Court ruled that confessions extracted with the help of harsh methods that inflicted pain were not admissible.
Regarding the main defendant, Amiram Ben-Uliel, the court accepted some of the confessions in the murder of the Dawabsheh family. The court said the confessions that were made under interrogation by the Shin Bet security service were inadmissible, but accepted the confessions made later in the investigation.
Regarding the minor, the court accepted his confessions regarding his involvement in the murders, but rejected all confessions he made during interrogation by the Shin Bet.
The decision by the court in Lod was made at a hearing before the main trial.
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If the confessions had been declared admissible, they probably would have ended in a conviction of the two suspects, legal experts had said. The rejection is a blow to the State Prosecutor’s Office as it will now be more difficult to obtain a conviction.
The proceedings were conducted behind closed doors mainly out of fear that the Shin Bet’s interrogation methods would be revealed.
The first confessions were obtained through so-called necessary interrogation by the Shin Bet, which involves measures such as binding the hands and feet and leaning the suspect’s lower back on a chair. Another measure is forcing the suspect to kneel in an uncomfortable position for a long period.
Following this interrogation, the two suspects confessed again in a standard interrogation. The main argument of the defendants’ lawyers is that the confessions are invalid because they were obtained under torture. Legally, these means are not considered torture, even though they cause significant physical pain.
The Justice Ministry has additional evidence, including details that could only be known to someone who was at the crime scene. But a rejection of such testimony would mean that most of the evidence was circumstantial, greatly weakening the case.
The indictment attributes the murders to Ben-Uliel himself, with the minor accused only of conspiracy and helping plan the murders, because there was insufficient evidence that the minor was in the West Bank village of Duma when the Dawabsheh house was set on fire. Security sources say this does not mean that the minor was not present, only that there was insufficient evidence to prove it.
Physical pressure is permitted only when a “ticking bomb” is involved – someone at large who might commit a terror attack. Law enforcement agencies said the interrogation was justified because the two suspects had knowledge about a group that sought to perpetrate similar attacks.
In the event, there were two failed attempts to commit similar attacks.
The prosecution and the attorney general’s office closely followed the interrogations. Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazri even visited the Shin Bet facility where the defendants were held and checked the situation “in a direct meeting with the detainees,” he wrote to their attorney.
“Our impression is that the physical and emotional state of the detainees is sound and that there is a significant disparity between the complaints heard from them directly and some of what was claimed on their behalf in public.”
Members of the Dawabsheh family said they were concerned after Tuesday’s decision. “I submitted a request to receive a permit to travel to the court in Lod; I want to be there and hear every word,” said Hussein Dawabsheh, father of Reham, who later died of her injuries after the attack in July 2015.
Her 1-year-old son Ali died immediately; her husband Sa’ed also died later that summer.
“From the start I had no confidence that the judicial system in Israel would do us justice,” Hussein Dawabsheh said. “Now they’re trying everything possible to clear the accused, and if that happens this entire case comes to nothing.”
Dawabsheh believes that the two defendants committed the crime. “They reenacted everything to the smallest detail, and now they’re claiming that they’re not guilty,” he said. “I’m convinced that they have other partners, because it isn’t logical that only two people committed such a crime.”
Attorney Omar Khamaisi, who represents the family, said the Dawabshehs were hoping for courageous decisions that will provide justice. “This is a despicable crime, and now this is the test for bringing the accused to justice,” he said.