Defendant in Arson Attack on Palestinian Family to Be Released to House Arrest

Confession by minor was disqualified because it was obtained through torture ■ Three members of Dawabsheh family were murdered in 2015 attack in West Bank

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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A demonstration in support of the murder suspects outside the Lod court last month.
A demonstration in support of the murder suspects outside the Lod court last month.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

An Israeli defendant in the 2015 murder of three Palestinian family members in the West Bank is to be released to house arrest on Sunday, after two years in prison. 

A. was a minor at the time of the suspected arson attack on the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma, and as a result his identity has been held from publication. He will be kept under supervision and be required to wear electronic tagging at all times.

A. is not charged with murder but rather, being involved in the incidents. The indictment attributes the murders to the main defendant, Amiram Ben-Uliel, with the minor accused of conspiracy and helping plan the murders. This is because there was insufficient evidence that A. was in Duma when the Dawabsheh home was set afire. Security sources say this does not mean the minor was not present, only that there is insufficient evidence to prove it.

A.’s release was postponed to Sunday at the request of state prosecutors, to  allow them time to decide whether they will appeal the decision of the Central District Court in Lod.

>> By rejecting confessions under torture, Israel takes step toward the truth | Analysis

The court’s decision follows a ruling last month that most of the confessions by Ben-Uliel are legally admissible. However, the court ruled that confessions extracted with the help of harsh methods that inflicted pain were not admissible.

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. The rulings were made as part of the pre-trial hearings.

Hussein Dawabsheh, whose daughter-in-law, son-in-law and grandson died in the fire, in Lod last month.

The court ruled the confessions of the second defendant, A., inadmissible. He had also confessed to being involved in six hate crimes – including four arson attempts and two acts of vandalism and hate graffiti against Arabs –  but did not admit any connection to the Duma murders.

The minor apparently spoke about the Duma murders with his interrogators “hypothetically,” and his admission was described as a “hypothetical confession.”

He detailed how the crime could have taken place, but was careful not to speak in the first person, only in the third person. This admission is seen as auxiliary evidence with less legal weight than a clear confession.

The court disqualified later confessions the minor had made after he had been interrogated under torture, when he spoke directly about the part he played in the Duma murders.

The prosecution did not attribute the Duma murders directly to the minor, but charged him with conspiracy to commit the murders. This is because he did not show up on the night he had allegedly agreed with Ben-Uliel to commit the murder. However, in Ben-Uliel’s confession, which was accepted as evidence, A.’s name was explicitly mentioned.

The prosecution said it has circumstantial evidence, as well as details that have never been made public, which only someone involved in the crime could know, and which Ben-Uliel knew. Prosecutors consider the chances of convicting the two as high.

The release to house arrest implies that the court does not consider A. to be dangerous in his present state and cannot obstruct justice and the legal proceedings against him.

“Better late than never, we have finished this part of the struggle successfully,” said A.’s lawyer, Adi Keidar from the Honenu Israeli Zionist legal aid nonprofit organization, which provides legal representation to soldiers and others accused of crimes against Arabs.

“I would like to remind the public, the public has not yet been exposed to a tiny bit of what has occurred in this case and the fact that the state has not honored, learned from or implemented what was written in the ruling – and this is very unfortunate.”    

Members of the Dawabsheh family said they were concerned after last month'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.”

In June, right-wing extremists protested in support of Ben-Uliel. Protesters confronted Hussein outside the Central District Court and shouted offensive remarks. Screaming in Arabic, protesters chanted at Hussein Dawabsheh, “Where is Ali? There is no Ali, Ali burned. Ali is on the grill.”

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