Israeli Court Throws Out Jewish Teen's Church Arson Confession Obtained Under 'Undue Pressure'

Minor suspected of involvement in arson cases at Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem and village of Aqraba near Nablus ■ Confession obtained 'under heavy psychological and possible physical pressure,' court says

A protest outside of the Central District Court in favor of the suspects, Rishon LeZion, December 31, 2018.
Meged Gozani

The Central District Court on Tuesday invalidated the confession of a minor allegedly involved in two arsons because, saying that during his questioning by authorities he was forbidden to meet a lawyer and was subject to undue pressure by interrogators. 

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The minor was suspected of involvement in the torching of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem in 2015 and of arson in the village of Aqraba near Nablus. He was arrested during the search for individuals connected to the 2015 arson that killed three members of the Dawabshe family in Duma, although he was not charged for that crime.

The home of the Dawabsheh family following the arson that claimed three lives in 2015.
Reuters

During questioning, the minor confessed to involvement in a terrorist group and to hate crimes that included arson and property damage. But the way the Shin Bet security service and the Judea and Samaria Police conducted his interrogation, without allowing the boy to see a lawyer and under heavy psychological and possible physical pressure, led the court to throw out all the statements he made under questioning, it said.

“The accused was kept under continuous intensive questioning by the Shin Bet and the police from the day of his arrest,” said Judge Michal Brant. “He sat in a cell for four days with a number of people put in there to make him talk, whose conduct was improper to say the least – harmful and threatening. This created a situation for the accused in which he was under pressure and felt helpless … No consideration was given of his young age, or the fact that he was prevented from seeing a lawyer during this entire time."

She added, moreover, that “it’s not possible to rebut the defendant’s claim that during questioning by the Shin Bet he was subjected to one instance of violence and yelling."

According to the minor’s attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, the judge said in her decision, “From the first moment, the accused was treated in an alienating fashion by inexperienced investigators … the crimes he is accused of are serious but the defendant’s right to due process was violated."

Ben Gvir added that during the minor’s detention in Acre, police set up a mock prison, where agents starved the accused in his cell, humiliated him and threatened him with murder and rape until they got a confession. The court upheld the ban on publishing details of the case.

A police officer at the site of the arson at the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, 2015.
Emil Salman

The minor was charged in connection with an incident in February 2015, during which a church building used as a seminary was torched and graffiti was found on the walls that included “Death to Arabs,” and slurs against Jesus and Mary. The name of an illegal outpost that had been evacuated the week before, Geulat Zion, was also scrawled.

In June, the Central District Court threw out the confessions of suspects in the Dawabshe killings that were extracted under torture, but declared the rest of the confessions admissible.

Judge Ruth Lorch was scathingly critical of the confessions obtained from suspect Amiram Ben Uliel and a minor involved in the case that involved the use of painful physical measures.

“These measures gravely violated the defendants’ fundamental right to the integrity of their body and soul and their dignity was undermined,” Lorch said.

Ben Uliel had confessed to murder three times, but two of those confessions were thrown out. The court also allowed the minor’s confession to involvement in a subversive network, but disallowed the confessions that linked him to the Dawabshe killings, which were obtained under physical pressure.

On Monday, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the detention of three minors accused of involvement in Jewish terrorism. They had been refused permission to see a lawyer. The father of one of the minors said Tuesday that he fears what will happen to his son under questioning.

“We are very afraid of all these investigations,” he told Army Radio. “We don’t know very much. We know they are being held and cannot meet with us, and cannot meet with a lawyer; we don’t know how they are or what’s being done to them.”

A gag order prevents publication of any details about the case or the suspects.