(June 20, 2018 / Israel Hayom) The Central District Court on Tuesday ruled that confessions obtained under duress from suspects in the Duma arson attack that claimed the lives of three members of the Dawabshe family in 2015 are inadmissible.
Assailants firebombed the Dawabshe family’s home in the West Bank village of Duma while they were sleeping, killing 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe, his mother Riham and his father Saad. Ali’s 4-year-old brother Ahmed, the sole survivor, was hospitalized for close to a year after the attack.
The arson attack was condemned by Israeli officials from across the political spectrum, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to show “zero tolerance” in the fight to bring the assailants to justice.
Judge Ruth Lorch ruled the confessions obtained from the main defendant, Amiram Ben-Uliel, were inadmissible after the other defendants retracted their confessions, saying they were extracted under torture.
The other confessions, which were submitted in later investigations and the re-enactments of the events, were ruled to still be admissible after evidence was presented showing they were given of the suspects’ “free will.”
As for another defendant in the case, a minor, the judge ruled his confessions of involvement in the arson attack were inadmissible, but that his confessions concerning other acts against Palestinians and as members of a terrorist group can be used against him in the case.
According to the court, “These means [torture] have dealt a serious blow to the defendants’ basic right to the preservation of physical and spiritual integrity. Likewise, the defendants’ dignity was also harmed. The interrogators’ use of ‘special means’ in this case, whether necessary or not, was wrong.”
The court did, however, stress that this was not a sweeping ruling pertaining to the products of enhanced interrogation as a practice.
The ruling will allow the trial to continue with the murder charge against the main defendant, Ben-Uliel. As for the minor, some of the charges against him may ultimately be dropped and he may stand trial for secondary offenses.
Zion Amir and Adi Keidar, attorneys for the minor, said they would petition the court for his release on parole after two and a half years of detention. Ben-Uliel’s attorneys, Asher Ohayon and Yitzhak Bass said they would continue “to fight for his acquittal since the confessions obtained after the torture stemmed from a fear of further torture.”
Dozens of far-right protesters gathered outside the court. They were met by dozens of counterprotesters from the Left and members of the Arab sector who called for the defendants to be brought to justice.
Shin Bet officials emphasized that while some of the confessions were deemed inadmissible, they stand behind the findings in their investigation.
“On the basis of intelligence information, members of a terrorist network were arrested, among them the defendants, who were suspected of planning and perpetrating the murder and other acts of terrorism.
“The court’s findings reinforce the assessment of the threat posed by the infrastructure and the immediate need to thwart its activity. Shin Bet interrogations are an important and central component in thwarting terrorism and deciphering serious attacks.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s ruling, bereaved relatives asked the court to “look in the eyes of the child who remained alive after they burned his entire family and to this day still asks why they did this to us. We want justice. If it was a Palestinian [who committed the crime], there would already be a death sentence. The fish rots from the head down because of incitement.”
After the court handed down its ruling, family members said they would be waiting for the verdict.
The father of the minor defendant said, “We are glad justice has been served and that the court ruled our son had nothing to do with the incident in Duma, something we have been saying all along. Our son was subjected to severe torture during interrogations and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Bass, Ben-Uliel’s attorney, said, “We will fight until the rest of the confessions have been disqualified. A legal system that respects human dignity cannot accept the admission of confessions obtained following intentional physical suffering as evidence in the trial.
Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has represented Ben-Uliel from the start, said he expected all the confessions to be disqualified.
Joint Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi, who arrived with fellow party MK Ayman Odeh to the hearing, said, “We oppose the torture of interrogees – whether they are Jewish or Palestinian. But following the judges’ decision, the direction is that the two criminals will go to jail.”
Meretz MK Esawei Frej said, “It turns out that even with regard to murderers, there are Arabs you are allowed to torture and Jews who you are not. Discrimination has become so entrenched that even the murderers of families benefit from it. Torture is an unacceptable interrogation practice, but it is unacceptable in relation to Jews and Arabs alike, and not as it is today, when the Shin Bet’s finger is much lighter on the trigger when it comes to Arabs. The courts differentiate between Arabs and Jews, also when it comes to approving torture.”
Habayit Hayehudi MK Moti Yogev called for a commission of inquiry.
“I appreciate, cherish and thank the Shin Bet for acting day and night for Israel’s security and the saving of lives. No Jewish person supports a murder like the murder of the Dawabshe family in Duma.
“Nevertheless, the conduct of the Jewish department in the Shin Bet with respect to investigating Jewish terrorist detainees, the handling of hilltop youth and preventing them from joining the IDF on various pretexts – especially in light of the court’s ruling on the Duma detainees – mandates a commission of inquiry. For three years, I have demanded the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee discuss this issue because it is our authority and our responsibility.”
Prosecutor Rachel Avisar-Abeles noted, “The court accepted our position with regard to the first defendant, and it is possible to use the evidence with regard to the second.” She said, “We did not ask to authorize evidence that was obtained through torture.”