The Duma lesson

The case was not a simple one neither legally nor psychologically.

Amiram Ben-Uliel appears at Lod District Court ahead of his conviction in the Duma arson case, May 18, 2020 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Amiram Ben-Uliel appears at Lod District Court ahead of his conviction in the Duma arson case, May 18, 2020
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
The Lod District Court on Monday convicted Amiram Ben-Uliel in one of the most despicable murder cases the country has known. Ben-Uliel was found guilty of the arson attack in 2015 in which three Palestinians, including a baby, were killed in their home in the village of Duma. Eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabshe and his parents, Sa’ad and Riham, were murdered as they slept and Ali’s then-four-year-old brother suffered serious burns after Ben-Uliel threw firebombs through their home’s windows.
Although the court convicted Ben-Uliel of three counts of homicide it acquitted him of membership in a terrorist group.
The case was not a simple one neither legally nor psychologically. As The Jerusalem Post’s Yonah Jeremy Bob noted, Yoram Cohen, the former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), said it fundamentally altered the entire approach toward Jewish terrorism against Palestinians, taking a much harder stance and resulting in investing far more resources.
When the Shin Bet finally apprehended Ben-Uliel, then 21, along with a 17-year-old who was accused of conspiring with him, the circumstances surrounding the lethal arson attack were considered so serious that the security agency used “enhanced interrogation techniques,” treating the suspects as “ticking time bombs.”
In January 2016, then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein and then-head state prosecutor Shai Nitzan personally approved the indictments filed by prosecutors Rahel Avisar and Yael Atzmon, in effect approving the use of the techniques used in the questioning.
From the indictment in January 2016 until June 2018, there was a mini-trial over whether the defendants had been tortured or only exposed to “moderate pressure,” which is sometimes permitted in Israel to prevent a potential impending terrorist attack.
In June 2018, the Lod District Court issued a ruling confirming the validity of key confessions of Ben-Uliel while disqualifying key confessions given by the case’s minor defendant. The minor defendant was eventually convicted for lesser “price-tag” attacks and a vague role in the Duma case.
The use of enhanced interrogation, administrative detention and other extreme measures was evidence that the Shin Bet considered Ben-Uliel to be a Jewish terrorist, justifying the extreme measures that are usually employed in the fight against Palestinian terrorism. There is no reason for the Shin Bet to act to extract a confession at any cost; there is every reason for the security agency to act to obtain the intelligence that can thwart planned violent attacks before they can take place.
The Duma case should give the country pause for thought and reassess the way it approaches such crimes. There can never be a difference in the blood of the victims. The methods and parameters by which the perpetrators of such criminal acts are caught and brought to justice must also be the same, whether Jew or Palestinian.
The court showed that on Monday with an unequivocal ruling convicting Ben-Uliel. The government should now consider doing to his home what it does to the homes of Palestinian terrorists. For there to be true deterrence, Israel should now consider razing Ben-Uliel’s home as well.
Whether that takes place or not, fortunately such cases as the Duma arson attack or the kidnapping and murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in 2014 – true abominations – are rare for Israel. After both, the country’s leadership unequivocally condemned them as did members of the right-wing camp, mostly associated with the settlement enterprise.
Such attacks need to be condemned in the strongest of terms and punished with the full weight of the law because they have widespread ramifications – ramping up tension between Israelis and Palestinians and fueling violence. They also go against everything being Jewish stands for when it comes to sanctifying life.
That is why the handling of such crimes is significant for Israeli society. While the Palestinian Authority fosters the cult of martyrdom and supports terrorism with its “pay-for-slay” policy of funding the families of terrorists, Israel realizes that such attacks can never be justified.
Ben-Uliel’s conviction for murder cannot bring back the three slain members of the Dawabshe family but it can act as a deterrent and send a clear message that Jewish violence will not be tolerated.