Minor Involved in Arson Murder of Dawabsheh Family Convicted of Membership in Terror Group

Court approves plea deal in which the minor admitted to conspiring to set fire to the Dawabsheh family home, resulting in the death of the parents and their baby

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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The minor involved in the Dawabsheh family arson murder at the Lod District Court, October 24, 2019.
The minor involved in the Dawabsheh family arson murder at the Lod District Court, October 24, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

An Israeli minor, who was charged in the case of the 2015 Dawabsheh family murder, was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization on Thursday.

The Central District Court in Lod approved a plea deal agreement reached in May with the prosecution, in which the minor admitted to conspiring to set fire to the Dawabsheh family home for racist motives, and involvement in other hate crimes.

The case the minor is embroiled in is a July 2015 arson attack in which the house of the Palestinian family of Dawabsheh was targeted with a firebomb in the West Bank village of Douma. The parents, Sa'ed and Reham, died of their injuries within days. Their one-year-old toddler son Ali was burned to death. 

Although the plea bargain was approved by the court, the minor wasn't automatically charged due to his age, and his verdict will be handed down later.

Hussein Dawabsheh at the Central District Court in Lod, October 24, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The count of membership in a terrorist organization was left out of the plea bargain deal, and it was decided that both sides would plead their cases based on the evidence presented so far during the trial. The minor has not yet been sentenced on the crimes in the plea agreement, but prosecutors have agreed not to ask for more than five and a half years in prison.

The uncle and grandfather from the Dawabsheh family were present at the courtroom. The uncle told Haaretz that he hopes the court will impose justice and the “price of settler terrorism is paid not only by the Palestinians, but by Israelis too, like in the attack of soldiers [by settlers] near the village of Burin a few days ago.”

Attorney Adi Keidar, who represents the minor on behalf of the Honenu organization – an NGO that provides free legal services to right-wing activists – said he will appeal the ruling. “We remember the poignant things the court told the prosecution two months ago. [The court] said that they have no case and they need to withdraw the charges, and therefore it is surprising, and I don’t understand what has changed since.”

The prosecutors said after the ruling that the terrorist organization in which the minor was a member planned to attack innocent Arabs, their property and religious sites “in order to convey a message of deterrence and sow terror and fear among the non-Jewish population,” adding that the evidence presents a clear picture of the existence of the terrorist organization and the minor’s membership in it.

Hussein Dawabsheh, whose daughter-in-law, son-in-law and grandson died in the fire, called the defendant inhuman. “Whoever goes to burn houses, mosques and cut down trees, is a difficult person not just for us but also for Israel. They need to spend all their life in prison.”

The original indictment did not accuse the minor of the three murders of the Dawabsheh family, but of conspiring to commit a crime alongside the main defendant Amiram Ben-Uliel, who has confessed to the murders. 

According to the indictment, the minor was not present in Douma on the night of the arson attack, when he was supposed to meet Ben-Uliel. Nevertheless, the minor's name was explicitly mentined in Ben-Uliel confession, which was accepted into evidence.

Ben-Uliel’s trial is still ongoing, and in June he decided not to testify in court. According to his lawyer, Ben-Uliel sought to express his “feeling of injustice” caused to him during the preliminary stages of the trial. Ben-Uliel decided not to testify after it was explained to him that this could strengthen the evidence against him.

Alongside the minor's involvement in the Douma attack, the crimes agreed on in the plea bargain are arson of a storeroom in the village of Akraba and vandalism for racist motives; setting a taxi on fire and scrawling graffiti in the village of Yasuf and slashing tires in the East Jerusalem Arab village of Beit Tzafafa. The maximum punishment for the arson charges is 15 years in prison.

No agreement was reached on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization, and the decision on this charge will be made later in a regular trial.

Honenu said this is “another collapse of the theory the Shin Bet security service has constructed about what occurred on that night in the village of Douma and who is behind the incident.”

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