Photo Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Pool
Amiram Ben Uliel, the suspect in the Duma arson/murder case, arrives to hear his verdict in court, May 18, 2020.

Amiram Ben Uliel, accused of murdering the Dawabsheh family in Duma village, near Shechem, four and a half years ago, on July 31, 2015, was convicted on Monday morning by a three-judge panel in the Lod District Court. Uliel’s attorney plans to appeal the verdict. The penalty phase will begin on June 9.

The defendant’s wife, Orian Ben Uliel, erupted during the hearing of the verdict and yelled at the judges: “You put an innocent man in jail. The case is full of holes, you convicted an innocent man.”

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The investigation of the Duma arson/murder case was rife with irregularities on the part of the Shin Bet, which was the reason the same court dropped the charges against Ben Uliel’s co-defendant, a minor, because of the use of torture during his investigation, as well as other aggressive methods. But in Ben Uliel’s case, the judges noted that “our impression of the defendant and his behavior showed that there is no a risk of a false confession here. His confessions to the investigator were authentic. The defendant was able to identify the window where a second incendiary bottle was placed, was able to identify characteristics and hidden elements.” They further stated that “it is not possible to determine whether there was an additional operator based on evidence found in the scene.”

“With regard to tire and shoe tracks – the overall impression did not lead to clear findings,” the judges concluded. “It is impossible to suggest that this was not an event with a racial background according to the defendant’s perceptions. There was suspicion that he was a member of an organization, but not beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Attorney Yitzhak Bam, who represents Ben Uliel along with Attorney Asher Ohayon, said: “After the court had accepted the confession and the reconstruction of the crime that were made under the influence of torture, the conviction was only a matter of judicial acrobatics that mediated the confession with the conflicting evidence discovered in the field. Once the court overcame the acrobatic task, it opened our path to appeal to the Supreme Court for the very acceptance of a confession given under torture.”

“The only point of light in the verdict is the court’s reluctance to convict Ben Uliel of membership in a terrorist organization,” Bam said.

Shmuel (Zengi) Meidad, CEO of the Honenu legal aid society, attacked the murder conviction, saying: “Today is a black day for the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel. A day when a court in Israel collaborated in convicting a man whose innocence cries out to heaven. We believed that in the State of Israel there’s a value for human rights, which means that a citizen who was tortured harshly in the Shin Bet dungeons until he was forced to confess to a crime he had not committed would not be convicted on the basis of such confessions. Such confessions are worthless. We believed that the court would not close its eyes in view of the many contradictions within the indictment that emerged during the trial. We believed, but we were disillusioned.”

Arab girls walk outside the Dawabsheh’s damaged home in Duma, August 06, 2015. / Miriam Alster/FLASH90

On July 31, 2015, two family homes in Duma village were firebombed by one or more masked attackers. According to all the reports, the first house was empty, and the attacker or attackers then went to a second house, where 18-month-old Ali Sa’ad Dawabsheh was burnt to death; his parents and 4-year-old brother were critically injured and rushed to Israeli hospitals, where both parents died of their injuries.

Two graffiti slogans in Hebrew were found on the house walls: “Revenge” with a star of David, and “Long live the King Messiah” with the image of a crown.

On January 3, 2016, two suspects were indicted. Amiram Ben-Uliel, then 21, was charged with murder. The other, a minor whose identity was withheld, was charged as an accessory. In June 2018, the Lod District Court accepted ruled out confessions obtained under torture. However it confirmed another confession, as well as a crime reconstruction by Ben-Uliel. In July 2018, the minor, who had confessed to four arson attempts and two acts of vandalism and hate graffiti against Arabs, was released to house arrest. He was absolved from responsibility for the Duma murders because his confessions were ruled to have been extracted under torture. In May 2019, the minor, now a young adult, made a plea deal in which the prosecution agreed not to ask for a sentence exceeding 5 and a half years in prison (most of which he had already served).

It should be noted that over the past four and a half years, the prosecution has been unable to settle the serious contradictions between the different eyewitness accounts from the night of the event, and has simply chosen to go with one testimony and ignore the rest – leaving a wide gap of reasonable doubt. But the district court on Monday managed to jump through hoops to side with the prosecution.

Obviously, the fate of the appeal will depend on the panel of judges Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut will decide to assemble. And, as we try to mention as often as possible in these reports, it was a Supreme Court judge, Yoram Danziger, who sanctioned the torture of the two defendants, under a cockamamie excuse of there being a “ticking bomb.” This despite the fact that the Shin Bet never mentioned any suspicions of a plot being hatched out there to burn down another Arab home. So, it was basically giving the clandestine police permission to torture Israeli citizens.

A fine Supreme Court you got there, Justice Hayut.

By the way, in 2016, there were at least six arson cases in Duma village, where the warring local clans regularly use firebombing the way regular people use disparaging comments on Facebook. And, also, the names of the two warring clans are Dawabsheh and Dawabsheh.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.