Relatives of the victims testified Tuesday at the sentencing hearing for Amiram Ben-Uliel, an Israeli convicted of murdering three members of the Dawabsheh family in the 2015 arson attack on their home in the West Bank village of Duma.
The nighttime firebombing took the lives of Sa’ad and Reham Dawabshe and their baby son Ali, who died of his wounds in the hospital, and orphaned their 4-year-old son Ahmed.
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Ben-Uliel was convicted last month.
“The fire and hate became real,” Nasser Dawabsheh, Sa’ad’s brother, testified. “When we entered the home, it was hell – high temperatures, explosions and smoke. We tried [to get in] a first time, and a second time. When we entered with rescue personnel, my leg touched something soft. When I picked it up, it was Ali. When the surgeon started operating on Ali, [the child] was coal. Parts of his body didn’t exist. If Ali had remained at the scene for another half hour, the surgeon said we wouldn’t have seen him.”
Ali was a year and a half old at the time of his death.
Nasser Dawabsheh testified that five years after the attack, his family still lives in fear. “We’ve had situations in which, if the children have wanted to go to the bathroom, we’ve gone with them,” he said. “We don’t leave them alone. There’s no way that we would go to sleep until we feel safe. We have been suffering greatly.”
Regarding Ahmad, the surviving son, his uncle said: “When his teacher asked him to draw the number of people [in his family], he drew four fingers. Up to now, he doesn’t accept that he has lost his family. He went to sleep with a family and woke up without a family.”
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Although it is unusual under such circumstances, the uncle was cross-examined by Ben-Uliel’s counsel after he testified.
Hussein Dawabsheh, Ali and Ahmed’s grandfather and the father of Reham, testified that his daughter had dreams that her children would achieve much as adults, that they would study medicine. “She built a home. The home was burned up,” he said, adding that he had thought about bringing Ahmed, the surviving grandchild, to court but ultimately reconsidered.
“He told me: ‘Grandpa, if you promise that I won’t see [Ben-Uliel] when I dream, I’ll come. I’m not living during the day, so do I also need not to live at night? Have mercy on me,’” Hussein, the grandfather, recounted.
The prosecutor in the case, which is being heard in Central District Court in Lod, asked that Ben-Uliel be sentenced to three life terms in prison, in addition to 40 years for other counts in the indictment on which he was convicted.
“In his heart, the defendant formed the decision to murder Arabs for no other reason than that they were Arabs,” the prosecutor told the court. “The defendant committed this frightful murder only out of revenge and by choosing to perpetuate the cycle of blood.”
According to the indictment, Ben -Uliel’s motive was to “avenge” the killing of an Israeli, Malachi Rosenfeld, by a Palestinian in a drive-by shooting near Duma.
The prosecution also asked the court to rule that the defendant committed a murder of exceptional gravity and that he should pay the Dawabsheh family the maximum monetary compensation allowed by law.
Ben-Uliel was convicted in May on three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson, as well as conspiracy to commit a crime for racist motives. He was acquitted of membership in a terrorist organization. The court ruled that although his acts constituted terrorist acts, it was not proven that he was a member of a terrorist organization.
He admitted to the killings on three occasions, but two of the confessions were ruled inadmissible – the first because it was extracted by painful physical means and the second time because of its close proximity in time to the use of such physical force. The third confession was ruled admissible in full.