Israeli Court Opens Trial of West Bank Arson Murder to Public

Previous trial sessions were held behind closed doors to prevent disclosure of Shin Bet methods ■ Three members of the Dawabsheh family were burned to death by a Jewish settler in 2015

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Palestinian relatives gather around Ahmad Dawabsheh, the sole survivor of a West Bank arson attack in Duma village, at the Tel HaShomer Hospital in the city of Ramat Gan, Israel, Friday, July 22, 2016
Palestinian relatives gather around Ahmad Dawabsheh, the sole survivor of a West Bank arson attack in Duma village, at the Tel HaShomer Hospital in the city of Ramat Gan, Israel, Friday, July 22, 2016Credit: Tsafrir Abayov,AP

From now on, the murder trial for the 2015 arson slayings of three members of the Dawabsheh family in the West Bank village of Duma will be held in open court, the Central District Court in Lod ruled on Thursday.

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The main defendant is Amiram Ben-Uliel, who has confessed to the murders. In June, the court ruled that one of his confessions, which was extracted under torture, was inadmissible as evidence – but his other statements to the Shin Bet security service could be presented as evidence, and are considered to be of major importance in securing a conviction.

But the court also allowed future sessions to be closed to the public when Shin Bet officials testify about their methods of interrogation, and the content of previous sessions will also remain confidential.

The court decided at the beginning of the proceedings that the case would be heard behind closed doors to prevent the exposure of Shin Bet methods and operations. Now, in response to a petition from the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and attorney Tali Lieblich, the court will open its proceedings to the public.

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The indictment attributes the murders to Ben-Uliel himself, with an unnamed 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 have said in the past that this does not mean that the minor was not present, only that there was insufficient evidence to prove it. Even though the trial will now be opened to the public, publishing the minor’s name, picture and identifying details will still be banned. During the interrogations, the minor confessed to involvement in other hate crimes, including arson, and he has been charged in those cases too.

He was released in July to house arrest after two years in detention. He is being kept under supervision and is required to wear an electronic tracking device at all times.

The court ruled in July that the minor’s confessions were inadmissible. He has confessed to being involved in six other hate crimes – including four arson attempts and two acts of vandalism and hate graffiti against Arabs – but did not admit any connection to the Dawabsheh murders. Ali Dawabsheh, 18 months old, his mother, Riham, 26, and father, Sa’ed, 32, were burned to death when their house was firebombed in the middle of night on July 31, 2015.

The judges denied a request from Lieblich to allow the publication of the transcripts of previous court sessions. The judges said some of the transcripts have been illegally quoted in the press: “There is no justification to agree to an additional request to release the transcripts [of the hearings] that have been held until now, including the testimony of Shin Bet officials, the defendants and witnesses for the defense.”

Itzhak Bam, the attorney representing Ben-Uliel, said: “We are sorry that the decision of the District Court has come too late. It is a shame that the previous stage, in which the Shin Bet investigators gave details of what methods they used to extract the confessions of the defendants, was held behind closed doors.”