Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Suspects indicted in Israel for the Duma terrorist attack

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On January 3, Israel indicted 21 year-old Amiram Ben-Uliel for the July 31 arson attack in Duma on the Dawabsha family home that killed 18-month-old Ali and his parents, Sa'ad and Riham, and left five year-old Ahmed seriously wounded. Ben-Uliel has been charged with three counts of murder, attempted murder, arson and conspiracy to commit a racist-motivated felony for the arson attack and he could face multiple life sentences.

A minor whose name remains under gag order, known as "Aleph Aleph", has also been indicted for less serious charges regarding the attack. The indictments follow four months of investigations into the terror attack, including the confessions of both Ben-Uliel and the minor. The confessions were allegedly taken by the Shin Bet (Israel's Security Agency), using authorised "extreme measures", after they were declared "ticking bombs" - suspects who are believed to be imminent threats. The validity of their confessions will likely be a key subject of discussion during their trials.

According to reports, the indictments against Ben-Uliel and the minor reportedly allege that the two discussed ways they could take revenge on Palestinians following the June murder of Malachi Rosenfeld in a West Bank terrorist attack. The indictments allege that the two planned one attack on Duma and another for the nearby village of Majdal, with plans to murder the residents of homes in those locations. Ben-Uliel prepared a backpack with two firebombs full of gasoline, a lighter, matches, gloves and spray-paint, with plans to meet the minor. However, when the minor did not show, Ben-Uliel decided to perpetrate the attack on his own, the indictment reportedly alleges.

Ben-Uliel's defence lawyers have said that the suspect has since retracted his confession claiming he made it under torture. However, reports on the confession suggest that Ben-Uliel provided information not released to the public that only the attacker would know, including the green colour of the glass bottle used in the firebombing and an accurate description of the Dawabshas' car - investigators told a newspaper.

The police are also reported to have found additional evidence, including matching footprints at the scene of the crime that are believed to match Ben-Uliel's shoes. Ben-Uliel also re-enacted his alleged crime last month in Duma, taking officers through the attack step by step, the Times of Israel reported. He also said that he tripped over as he fled the scene - a detail that matched an account that had been received from a neighbour.

However, the Shin Bet's account of what happened based on Ben-Uliel's testimony, does not match with the description given by some witnesses, who described seeing two perpetrators flee the scene. Ben-Uliel reportedly claimed to have acted alone.

The indictments have been welcomed across Israeli society - by right-wing and left-wing groups - following the prolonged investigation that had been going on since the attack five months ago. On the Right, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, stated: "It is now clear that these acts were perpetrated by a fringe group of anarchists bent on destroying the State of Israel and the freedom and justice it represents." Adding, it "condemns these heinous acts of unadulterated murder and will continue to work together with the security forces to ensure a peaceful future for all the residents of Judea and Samaria." On the Left, MK Itzik Shmuli of the Zionist Union, who heads the Lobby for the Fight Against "Price Tag" Acts, stated: "The very fact of the knowledge that Jews perpetrated the horrendous terrorist attack is simply nauseating and they must be brought to justice like all other terrorists."

The widespread condemnation of Jewish terror in Israeli society contrasts with the praise Arab terrorists receive by many Palestinian leaders - as Palestinian terrorists are provided with government subsidies and often honoured with buildings/stadiums/schools or streets in their name.

Overall, Israel has filed 36 indictments against Jewish extremists for various levels of connection with the attack, from Ben-Uliel and the minor who were allegedly directly involved, to others who were only peripherally connected. In addition to the Duma attack, suspects have recently been indicted for a variety of other "price tag" hate crime attacks - acts of violence and vandalism against Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel.

The indictments have not only been welcomed by Israeli society, but have led to growing consensus of the need to tackle the challenge of Jewish extremists. While the so-called "Hill Top Youth" - fringe extremist young people living in remote settlements and dedicated to replacing Israel with a theocratic "Torah" state - had long been dismissed by many Israelis as fringe petty criminals, there is now a growing realisation of the danger which they pose not only to Palestinians but to Israeli society, which must be tackled at all levels - at the criminal justice level, as well as through familial, educational and religious instruction. This issue is discussed in detail in commentaries by Isi Leibler (here), David Horowitz (here) and Yoav Limor (here).

The indictments also highlight Israel's commitment to pursuing justice, and that Jewish terrorists will feel the weight of the law against them. As Jonathan Tobin writes in Commentary, the indictments are not exceptional, but reflective of Israel as a democratic society:

"The announcement by the Israeli government of indictments in the shocking arson murder of an Arab family in a West Bank village last summer is, in a very real sense, not a big deal. In decent nations, those who commit murder shouldn't be allowed to get away with it no matter what the circumstances. That it took several months of investigations and interrogations of suspects was regrettable but, assuming that the case has been solved, the final result in which the guilty are punished is the main thing. Israel neither seeks nor deserves any special honors for enforcing the law. But there is nothing ordinary about this case. By putting the full resources of the state behind an effort to punish a Jew for killing Arabs in the midst of a bloody national conflict testifies to the resilience and the integrity of Israeli democracy and the rule of law.
"This is important not because those points are really in question but because the ongoing ideological war to destroy Israel is, at least in part, predicated on the notion that it does not seek to extend the protection of the rule to those who are not Jews or even citizens. Moreover, by having a so-called right-wing government take the threat of Jewish terrorism seriously, the country has once again reaffirmed its commitment to principle against pressure from those of its citizens who would have it descend to the level of its enemies."

Sharyn Mittelman


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