Israeli Court Acquits Jewish Suspects in Jerusalem Church Arson Case

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Yinon Reuveni at his conviction for the arson of the Church of the Multiplication, Nazareth, July 3, 2017.
Yinon Reuveni at his conviction for the arson of the Church of the Multiplication, Nazareth, July 3, 2017.Credit: Abdullah Shama

The prosecution of the Central District Court withdrew indictments against two men on Monday for allegedly setting fire to Jerusalem's Dormition Abbey in February 2016, on the basis of insufficient evidence. 

One of the suspects, Yinon Reuveni, a 23-year-old resident of the West Bank outpost of Baladim, was convicted of the June 2015 arson of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Taghba, on the Sea of Galilee.

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Reuveni's suspected accomplice was a minor when the arson was committed. He was arrested, but not indicted, as part of the investigation of the 2015 arson that wounded three members of the Dawabshe family and killed their one-and-a-half-year-old infant in the West Bank village of Duma, near Nablus.

In the Dormition Abbey case, the suspect was tried as a minor and admitted to involvement in terrorism and hate crimes, including arson and vandalism, as part of a plea bargain. The court had to throw out the confession, however, due to the Shin Bet security service's handling of his interrogation. The Shin Bet did not allow the suspect to see a lawyer, and the interrogation was conducted under heavy psychological, and possibly physical, pressure. 

One of the abbey buildings, which was used as a religious seminary, was set ablaze and hate graffiti was discovered on one wall proclaiming "Death to Arabs", as well as anti-Christian graffitti about Jesus and Mary. The name of the illegal outpost Geulat Zion, which was evacuated a week before, was also written on the wall.

The church, which was consecrated in 1906, is a among Jerusalem's landmark religious sites. It is believed to be the site where the Virgin Mary died, or fell into "eternal sleep." Pope Francis and Pope Paul VI both visited the site during official visits.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the lawyer representing Reuveni and his alleged accomplice, commented that the truth is fated to prevail. "For three years I have been saying from every dais that young Jews were tortured for political reasons and I fought for their vindication." He said he was glad the judge accepted his position and that the prosecution "admitted it had no evidence."

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