Israeli Court Refuses to Vacate Conviction of Arsonist Who Killed Palestinian Family

Amiram Ben-Uliel, who torched the Dawabsheh family home in 2015, killing parents and baby, to be sentenced next Monday

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Aviram Ben-Uliel in court on May 18, 2020.
Aviram Ben-Uliel in court on May 18, 2020.Credit: Avshalom Sassoni
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

A district court refused on Monday to vacate the conviction of the Dawabsheh family’s murderer due to contradictions between the indictment and interviews later given by the family’s sole survivor.

The Dawabsheh family’s home in the West Bank village of Duma was torched in July 2015. The parents and the younger child all died in the fire; only the older boy, Ahmed Dawabsheh, survived.

Amiram Ben-Uliel was convicted of the murder earlier this year and is due to be sentenced next Monday. A minor who was convicted as an accomplice will be sentenced on Wednesday.

In its ruling, the Central District Court said that since Ahmed Dawabsheh, now 10, was only five at the time of the murder, it’s impossible to know what in the interviews was based on reliable memory and what was based on stories he heard later.

10-year-old Ahmed Dawabsheh shows a family photo partially burnt down at the house in Nablus, West Bank on June 13, 2020.
10-year-old Ahmed Dawabsheh shows a partially burnt family photo his house in Nablus, West Bank on June 13, 2020.Credit: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via AFP

It’s clear he believes what he said, the judges added, but that doesn’t mean it can be treated as fact. Moreover, they noted, his story is inconsistent both internally and with the forensic evidence collected at the scene.

Ben-Uliel’s attorneys, Asher Ohayon and Itzhak Bam, had asked in June that Dawabsheh be summoned to testify in court before the sentence was handed down, in light of two interviews he had given – one to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and one together with his grandfather to a radio station. Police had never questioned Dawabsheh, but in both interviews, he said he remembered the incident very well.

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.
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. Credit: AP

The attorneys argued that the contradictions between the indictment and those interviews created sufficient doubt to justify acquitting Ben-Uliel. For instance, Dawabsheh said that three settlers participated in the arson attack, whereas the indictment said Ben-Uliel torched the house by himself.

The court decided against asking Dawabsheh to testify, fearing it would be a traumatic experience for a 10-year-old boy. Instead, the prosecution and defense agreed that the interviews he gave would be admitted as evidence. The prosecution also found and submitted two reports in Al Jazeera.

Ohayon said the court’s refusal to overturn Ben-Uliel’s conviction was “a mistake that we hope and expect to overturn on appeal.” The verdict, he added, is “full of question marks.”

Attorney Omar Khamaisi, representing the Dawabsheh family, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision. “All this drama is a pity when there’s so much evidence indicating who did this,” he said. “And we now know for certain that the person who committed this abhorrent crime is Amiram Ben-Uliel.”

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