Prosecution drops cases against two Jews for Dormition Abbey arson

Decision could alter all Shin Bet probes of Jewish terror.

THE DORMITION Abbey on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion (photo credit: reuters)
THE DORMITION Abbey on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion
(photo credit: reuters)
In a dramatic reversal, the state prosecution dropped its cases against Yinon Reuveni and a Jewish minor for arson of the Dormition Abbey in February 2015.
The decision could cause tremendous upheaval regarding how the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) probes Jewish terror cases in the future, since there has been significant public debate about whether the agency’s recent tougher tactics go too far.
The second defendant’s name is under gag order as he was a minor at the time of the alleged incident.
The stunning reversal comes after a blockbuster ruling by the Lod District Court in January nixing the confession of the Jewish minor for having perpetrated the Dormition Abbey arson on the grounds that the confession was coerced.
Lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir proclaimed victory over law enforcement and slammed what he said were coercive tactics that undercover agents used against the minor while in detention in Acre.
According to Ben-Gvir, the agents posing as prisoners threatened the minor, tried to starve him and otherwise went beyond permitted trickery tactics to obtain confessions.
“Today, we ended one of the gravest cases in the history of Israeli law,” said Ben-Gvir, adding that he will fight for the rights of right-wing activists in the Knesset if he makes it in as part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties joint list.
The state prosecution had said in January that it was evaluating its options, which could have included an appeal, but ultimately decided to withdraw the indictment entirely, citing a lack of other evidence to obtain a conviction.
The minor was arrested as part of a wave of arrests of Jewish activists following the July 2015 Duma murders of the Palestinian Dawabshe family.
Two other Jewish terrorism cases are still on track, including the Duma murder case against Amiram Ben-Uliel and another minor, as well as the 2018 case against a minor for the rock-throwing killing of Palestinian Aysha Rabi.
In February, former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, who ran the agency when the Duma and Dormition Abbey investigations were being carried out, told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview that he strongly supported the agency’s aggressive efforts to crack Jewish terrorism cases.
He said in rare cases, a court might find that the Shin Bet’s intent of thwarting terrorism “was the right intent, but afterward the court said the Shin Bet had gone beyond the acceptable framework… then the Shin Bet needs to review itself and make some changes” so the evidence it gathers sticks.
Moreover, he noted that in the Duma case, court rulings have already come out validating the Shin Bet as having “followed parameters for stopping future terrorism” and that he expects many of the Jewish terrorism defendants to be convicted.
In addition, Cohen said that to fight and thwart the latest Jewish terrorists, it is necessary to “use collection and prevention tools that are more or less identical, with no discrimination” to what are used against Palestinian terrorism.
According to the now-withdrawn indictment, the minor from the Dormition Abbey case and two others were also involved in the attack of a Palestinian shepherd next to Kochav Hashahar in the West Bank; the torching of a Palestinian taxi in Kafr Yussuf; the burning of a warehouse in Aqraba; and two incidents in which the tires of dozens of Palestinian cars were slashed in east Jerusalem.
In addition to that February 2015 arson, three minors ages 15 to 16 were indicted in late January 2016 for writing anti-Christian graffiti on the Dormition Abbey Christian holy site and other parts of the Via Dolorosa holy path that January 16-17.
The graffiti included the words “May his name be obliterated,” “Death to the heathen Christians the enemies of Israel” and “Go to hell,” as well as several other disgraceful messages and were crudely scrawled in red ink on the compound’s walls, drawing international condemnation.
Due to the defendants’ ages, their identities remain under gag order.
They were charged with destroying property based on hostile religious motivations and with harming religious sensitivities.