Three Palestinians Indicted for Arson in West Bank Settlement

Second time Palestinians charged with setting fires in that month; great majority of those arrested were released.

Israeli settlers grieve over their burnt houses in the Halamish settlement, also known as Neveh Tzuf, northwest of Ramallah near the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank on November 27, 2016, after 45 homes were damaged or completely destroyed by fire.
AFP / Menahem Kahana

Three Palestinians were indicted at the end of January for arson as part of the wave of fires that spread across Israeli in late November last year. The three men are charged with intentionally setting the fire that destroyed an entire neighborhood in the settlement of Halamish in the West Bank.

The fire caused extensive property damage, but no casualties. While they are charged with arson, the indictment does not specifically state that it was motivated by anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic sentiment.

The three men, Mu’atzem Mahmoud Yusuf Zahran, Ahad Issa Yusuf Zahran and Salam Uthman Salem Zahran, are charged with arson, intentionally damaging property, actions in violation of public order and harming protected natural resources.

The indictment, filed by military prosecutors, states the men were drinking beer and intentionally started the fire. They cut up toilet paper, spread it in the forest and then set it on fire near Halamish, also known as Neve Tzuf. The fire spread and destroyed 17 houses and caused damage to dozens more, as well as to other property.

After the fire, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Halamish and said that at least 17 of the fires across Israel were caused by arson.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tweeted on Sunday morning: “Today, too, the left will cling to the indictment against the Palestinians who set Neve Tzuf on fire and wanted to burn it down with all its residents, and will explain to the public that the arsonists did not confess to a [terrorist] motive. That they have a history of terrorist incidents such as throwing rocks and firebombs is irrelevant,” tweeted Erdan.

So far, indictments have been filed in two cases of arson in the West Bank during the wave of fires. Three residents of the Palestinian town of Iskaka were indicted in December for arson in a fire set near the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. They have confessed that the arson was a terrorist act.

No other indictments have been issued. It seems most of the fires in the Jerusalem area were the result of negligence, though firefighting service investigators think the second fire in the area of Nataf in the Jerusalem Hills was caused by a firebomb thrown from across the separation barrier in the area of the Palestinian village of Katana.