Critical Phase Begins in West Bank Arson Murder Trial

Evidence to be presented against Amiram Ben-Uliel and alleged accomplice in killings of three members of Dawabsheh family

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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File photo: Three women stand inside the Dawabsheh family home in Duma, West Bank, where an arson attack claimed three lives, August 4, 2015.
File photo: Three women stand inside the Dawabsheh family home in Duma, West Bank, where an arson attack claimed three lives, August 4, 2015.Credit: Menahem Kahana \ AFP
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

The evidentiary phase in the trial of the two men indicted for the 2015 firebomb murders of three members of a Palestinian family, including an 18-month-old boy, was to begin Sunday in the Lod District Court.

So far, the court has been dealing with pre-trial hearings involving the confessions to murder by the main defendant, Amiram Ben-Uliel, in an arson attack on the Dawabsheh family’s home in the West Bank village of Duma. The other defendant’s identity has not been made public because he was a minor at the time of the crime.

In June, the court ruled two of the confessions inadmissable as evidence. However, the court accepted a third confession, which included a reenactment of the murder, and so the prosecution believes it still has a strong case. Officials in the Justice Ministry told Haaretz at the end of the preliminary hearings that the prosecution has a variety of other evidence, including some that is circumstantial and that contains confidential details indicating that Ben-Uliel knew about the murder.

>> Who is Amiram Ben-Uliel, the alleged killer of the Dawabsheh family?Haaretz Q&A: Duma attack and Jewish terrorists

In the attack in the village of Duma, masked men broke a window in the Dawabsheh family home around 4 A.M. and threw an incendiary device inside. Ahmed Dawabsheh, now 6, was the only survivor of the ensuing blaze. His 18-month-old brother Ali was burned to death, while his parents Sa’ad and Reham died from their injuries weeks later.

The other man’s confessions of participation in the murders have been ruled inadmissible, but his confessions regarding six other nationalistic incidents in which he was involved, including attempted arson and hate crimes including vandalism, have been accepted. In the case of the Dawabsheh murders, the man gave what the prosecution calls “hypothetical confessions”– a confession that is not straightforward and is considered much weaker than a standard confession.

He described how the murder could have taken place, but did not do so in the first person or mention names. He was not charged with murder, because according to the indictment, he did not come to Duma on the night it was claimed he and Ben-Uliel had decided on. However, Haaretz reported in June that in Ben-Uliel’s confession, which was accepted by the court, the name of the minor was mentioned.

The confessions that deemed inadmissible were extracted under methods of interrogation that are only permitted in a “ticking bomb” situation. Law enforcement officials have said these methods was justified because it was feared the suspects knew about a network planning similar violent attacks. In fact, two failed attempts were subsequently made to carry out attacks like the one at Duma.

Palestinian police member inspects the damage inside a burnt-out house belonging to a key witness to an arson attack at Palestinian village of Duma, months after deadly attack. March 20, 2016. Credit: AFP

In September, the court decided to hold the trial in open court, except for future sessions where Shin Bet security service members are to testify. According to the suspects’ attorneys, including Zion Amir, Adi Kedar, Asher Ohayon and Itzhak Bam, a senior Shin Bet interrogator was to testify on Sunday morning, thus that session was to take place behind closed doors.

The suspects’ attorneys said Sunday’s witness, who had also testified at the preliminary hearings, was the head of the team that conducted the interrogations in the Shin Bet. The court has also allowed all the minutes of the preliminary proceedings to remain confidential.

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