As Duma trial closes, will it be convict or acquit?

Ben Uliel stands accused of the 2015 arson murder of a Palestinian family.

A girl looks at the damage inside the house of Palestinian Dawabsheh family after it was torched in the village of Duma near Nablus, May 11, 2018 (photo credit: ABED OMAR QUSINI/REUTERS)
A girl looks at the damage inside the house of Palestinian Dawabsheh family after it was torched in the village of Duma near Nablus, May 11, 2018
Both the prosecution and the defense made their closing statements before the Lod District Court in the blockbuster Duma trial on Sunday.
In the balance is whether Amiram Ben Uliel will be convicted or acquitted of the arson murder of three members of the Palestinian Dawabshe family in 2015.
The case and its investigation completely altered the playing field between the government, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the hilltop settler youth with ramifications to this day in anger between far-right Otzma Yehudit and the Likud.
In a previous interview, Yoram Cohen, who was Shin Bet chief when Duma broke, told The Jerusalem Post that he issued orders for the agencies’ unit to act far more aggressively against Jewish suspects, whether using administrative detention, enhanced interrogation or other methods which had been mostly reserved for Palestinians.
At stake in the case is whether the Shin Bet’s methods were justified by leading to convicting Ben Uliel or whether they were overly extreme and misdirected, if he is acquitted.
Prosecutor Yael Atzmon presented a multi-faceted case against Ben Uliel before Judges Ruth Lorech, Zvi Dotan and Dvora Atar.
She noted that in the many interrogations he underwent, there were points where he confessed to the arson murder, and that outside the course of those interrogations, he then reconstructed the crime at the scene in Duma.  
In addition, the prosecution pointed out that Ben Uliel declined to testify in the trial, which is usually held against a defendant as a potential sign of having something to hide.
Moreover, Atzmon argued to the court that incriminating statements by a minor co-conspirator of Ben Uliel’s should count in the case against him.
The minor previously cut a plea-deal confessing to other violent price tag attacks against Arabs and to some connections to the Duma case and to generally seeking to inflame Arab emotions in the region.
But he was acquitted of conspiracy to commit murder in the Duma case specifically and his confession to involvement in the Duma murder was thrown out due to being a minor who was given enhanced interrogation by the Shin Bet.
In contrast, Ben Uliel’s confession under enhanced interrogation was accepted as potential evidence, though on Sunday his lawyer, Asher Ohayon, worked hard to convince the judges that it should not be given much credibility compared to other evidence.
Ohayon also attacked the reconstruction which Ben Uliel gave, noting that the defendant mistakenly said that certain large and noticeable pillars were new to the area as proof that he had not been there.
In fact, the state prosecution admits that the pillars were not new and that the Dawabshe’s attacker would likely have passed by them and seen them.
Another avenue of attack by Ohayon was handwriting.
He brought a handwriting expert to prove that Ben Uliel could not have written the anti-Arab messages written in the area of the arson.
Judge Lorech pointed out that the prosecution had poked holes in the handwriting expert’s argument on cross-examination. This led to a back and forth between Lorech and Ohayon about which side came out ahead in the battle over the handwriting expert.
Next, Ohayon raised a range of contradictions to the state prosecution’s case, including: that a key Palestinian witness said he had seen two attackers at the scene (when the prosecution says that only Ben Uliel was there), that there were two sets of foot prints found near the scene neither of which correspond to Ben Uliel.
Essentially, the prosecution said that Ben Uliel should be convicted because his confession and reconstruction were too detailed to have been given by someone who had not perpetrated the crime.
Regarding inconsistent details, they offered potential alternate explanations that kept the focus on Ben Uliel, such as that the Palestinian witness who saw two people, possibly saw two villagers who beat him to the scene to see what was happening, but that he still arrive don the scene after Ben Uliel had fled.
Ohayon once again explained that even specific details that Ben Uliel told his interrogators could have come up in hints from his Shin Bet interrogators before he then volunteered the same facts.
Lorech said that it was too bad that Ben Uliel had not given this explanation himself, to which Ohayon replied that even without his testimony, the court was bound to acquit if there was a hole in the prosecution’s case that raised doubts about the defendant’s guilt.
The court set April 26 for giving its verdict.