Will Duma arson-terrorism defendants walk free?

Prosecution dropped portions of confessions that had been obtained through enhanced interrogation

Graffiti left on the Dawabshe family’s home in Duma following the incident says ‘May the King Messiah live!’ Three Palestinians were killed in the July 2015 arson-terrorist attack (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Graffiti left on the Dawabshe family’s home in Duma following the incident says ‘May the King Messiah live!’ Three Palestinians were killed in the July 2015 arson-terrorist attack
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Will the Duma terrorism trial defendants walk? The prosecution has dropped those portions of the defendants’ confessions that were obtained through enhanced interrogation, in a move which could lead to an acquittal, rocking the nation and the region.
Although the prosecution informed the Lod District Court of this decision weeks ago, it only became public late Monday night after the parents of the defendants released limited details regarding the case, confirmed by The Jerusalem Post – which are generally under gag order.
In July 2015, the Palestinian Dawabshe family in Duma was burned to death, including 18-month old Ali Dawabshe, by a terrorist arson attack that included spray-painted anti-Palestinian messages.
The attack lit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict afire and led to the toughest crackdown by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on Jewish settler activists in recent memory, including employing enhanced interrogation against the two defendants connected to the case.
Because the case is under gag order, the record of what the tactics were is unclear.
However, past leaks have indicated physical beatings of the defendants.
Further, in those few cases where the state has admitted on record to enhanced interrogation being used on Palestinians, they have used exposure to extreme temperature, sleep deprivation and forced sitting in painful positions.
As a result of the use of enhanced interrogation against Jews, a whole spin-off debate was begun by politicians, the media and activists about whether the defendants had been tortured and whether the confessions obtained by the Shin Bet were illegal and invalid.
Amiram Ben Uliel is the primary defendant in the Duma case, with a minor, whose name is under gag order, also originally connected to the case.
The minor was eventually dropped from the Duma allegations themselves, but is still connected to the debate about whether confessions he gave regarding his alleged involvement in price tag incidents could be used in court, since the Shin Bet used enhanced interrogation on him.
The bottom line is that the minor – still a defendant regarding some serious price tag allegations, and Ben Uliel – allegedly the man who perpetrated one of the worst and most inflaming acts of Jewish terrorism in years – have a much better chance of acquittal now that the state is withdrawing portions of their confessions.
None of this is a foregone conclusion; the current fight is actually the tail end of a twoyear- long mini-trial about the confessions which will be followed by the full trial later in the summer.
THE STATE did not withdraw all confessions and statements of the defendants, but rather only those made during the period when enhanced interrogation was applied.
In that light, the prosecution released a statement that it was still confident that it could triumph in the full trial based on other confessions and evidence.
Past leaks have indicated that other evidence includes Ben Uliel retracing his steps in committing the arson attack and narrating his actions to law enforcement. That narrative provided the basis for many details in the indictment which investigators did not know on their own.
Still, a withdrawal of key aspects of the confessions could be a major blow for the case and could raise questions about the credibility of other evidence obtained by interrogating the defendants. This is especially true about evidence obtained from the defendants after the enhanced interrogation had ceased.
One legal source questioned how statements given by the defendants after that kind of interrogation could be viewed as credible and not as part of the defendants’ saying whatever interrogators wanted to hear out of fear that the enhanced interrogation tactics could be put back in place.
Zion Amir, who represents the minor, said: “I hope that some day the issues which came up in the mini-trial... and everyone’s testimony – especially the Shin Bet agents’ testimony – will be revealed. The public will be greatly sickened how the interrogation was carried out.”
“We cannot live with an interrogation which was carried out like this in a democratic society,” added Amir.
The Shin Bet responded to the disclosure saying that it “stands behind the findings of the investigation... which led to the filing of the indictment.
Beyond that, the case is being litigated behind closed doors, and as such, we cannot address the substantive content, which would include the evidence upon which the indictment is based.
“Despite that, it should be noted that after the indictment was filed, [the court] ordered the defendants detained until the end of the trial, and their detention has been extended from time to time, part of which included exposing the court to evidence from the case,” the Shin Bet concluded.
The Justice Ministry responded, stating: “It is unfortunate that the gag order imposed by the court has been violated in a serial manner time after time,” echoing the Shin Bet’s position that a full response would be blocked by its need to comply with that same order.
However, the ministry added that its legal claims in the case have remained consistent at all times and that portions of the statements made by the defendants would still be part of the case.