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What an Exceptional Verdict in Palestinian Family's Murder Proves About Israel's Judiciary

When a Molotov cocktail is thrown into a house where an innocent family sleeps, you can no longer hide, blur, repress or deny. Even if they are Palestinians. Even in Israel

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Amiram Ben-Uliel at the Lod District Court, May 18, 2020
Amiram Ben-Uliel at the Lod District Court, May 18, 2020Credit: Avshalom Shoshani
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

At the only school in the world named for a toddler, the funeral was held for the child’s mother, who had died six weeks after her son.

The burned body of Reham Dawabsheh was laid at the center of the schoolyard, surrounded by residents of her remote village sitting in a silent circle. Only her face remained peaceful and whole, the rest of her body had been torched. Reham died on her 27th birthday; four weeks earlier, her husband, Saad, had died on their wedding anniversary. Ali, their son, only a year and a half, had died first. They had all gone to sleep on the night of July 31, 2015 in their small home in the West Bank village of Duma and were burned to death. Only Ahmed, 4, survived in serious condition, the lone remnant.

Bibi swears in his colossal coalition and readies for a courtroom showdown Credit: Haaretz

On Monday Amiram Ben-Uliel was convicted of three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, three counts of arson and of conspiring to commit a racially motivated crime. The young man who did renovations and was described as having “golden hands,” a follower of Rabbi Eliezer Berland and a “hilltop youth,” was found guilty and will be sentenced soon.

The verdict portrays him as the scum of the earth, scum with a large skullcap and ritual fringes. The Lod District Court did not dismiss the possibility that he was covering up for another murderer who roams free; one Duma resident had testified that he’d seen two figures in the dark that night.

The Dawabshe family home, which was set on fire by Uliel, killing three members of the family, March 12, 2015Credit: Moti Milrod

When I visited the house in Duma that Ben-Uliel had torched with the family inside, you could still smell the smoke. The TV set was melted, the microwave charred. Ali’s stroller stood in the center of the small house, covered in a Palestinian flag as a memorial to him. On it someone had hung a family photo of the type that hangs on the refrigerator of almost every home, except everyone in the photo was dead.

Serious Crime Case 932-01-16: The State of Israel vs. A. Ben-Uliel. In theory one could sigh with relief and even feel some satisfaction and pride. Justice was done, the murderer was convicted, and the legal system worked, even though the victims were Palestinians and the murderer was a Jew. Indeed, even a broken clock gets the time right twice a day. Monday was one of those times – the other one, if you will, was when the murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir were convicted.

In both these murders, Israel acted as if its law enforcement system was equitable and just. But the clock was and still is broken, even if in this instance it showed the right time with Swiss precision. It’s no coincidence that both Ben-Uliel and Yosef Haim Ben David, Abu Khdeir’s murderer, came from the margins of the nationalist camp, nor is it a coincidence that in both cases there were minors involved. These are the dregs of the settlement-harassment enterprise, the wild weeds that render the rest of it supposedly kosher.

Nor is it a coincidence that both these solved crimes were especially shocking, and thus got exceptional coverage in the Israeli media, despite the national origin of the victims. When a teenager is burned alive, or when a firebomb is thrown into the home of an innocent, sleeping family, one can no longer cover up, obscure, suppress or deny, even if the victims are Palestinians, even in Israel. These weren’t soldiers shooting a girl with scissors, a brigade commander shooting a fleeing teenager, or settlers who burn fields and attack shepherds. In these instances, there was no choice. There had to be an investigation, a trial and even a punishment.

In this case everyone clucked their tongues in artificial shock, including the president and the prime minister, so the Shin Bet security service and the police had no choice but to take vigorous action, although not quite as vigorous as usual in such cases. They tortured Ben-Uliel almost as badly as they routinely torture Palestinians (which shouldn’t have happened), and they of course did not demolish his home, as they would have long ago done to the family of a Palestinian terrorist (and it’s good that they didn’t). Nor were there any calls for the death penalty – this was a Jew, after all.

The blood of the Dawabsheh family cried out from their torched home far louder than the blood from the houses of other Palestinian victims, which is why this time, it couldn’t be covered up.

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