Dawabshe relatives view what remains of the family home in the northern West Bank village of Duma following the July 31, 2015, arson attack that left both parents and their 18-month-old child dead, and another of their children seriously burned. (Oren Ziv/Getty Images)

Plea Bargain Gives Israeli Lighter Sentence in Fatal West Bank Arson Attack

Lawyer for members of Dawabshe family demands harsher punishment, relative says sentence encourages extremist settlers

The Israeli Justice Ministry has confirmed that a Jewish settler accused of involvement in a fire that killed members of a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Duma in July 2015 admitted to culpability in a “racist crime” as part of a plea deal with the prosecution.

According to the agreement, which was endorsed by the District Court in the Israeli city of Lod, the prosecutor will seek a maximum sentence of five and a half years’ imprisonment for the defendant, whose identity has not been revealed because he was a minor at the time of the crime.

A lawyer for the Dawabshe family, Omar Khmayse, stated that his clients opposed the agreement and demanded a more severe punishment.

“We refuse the mentioned agreement completely,” said Nasr Dawabshe, a brother of Saed Dawabshe, the father of the family who, along with his wife and 18-month-old child, died in the attack. Another Dawabshe child survived, although with serious burns.

Khmayse told The Media Line that he wasn’t surprised by the agreement.

“We are dealing with a radical government that protects and pleases only the settlers,” he said.

Nasr Dawabshe said that such “unfair” agreements encouraged extremist settler groups to attack Palestinians on a daily basis.

“It gives them the green light to cut the trees and shoot our kids and people,” he said.

Dawabshe called the Israeli judiciary system a partner in achieving the goals of the settlers and the Israeli occupation in general, adding that different groups of settlers attack his village and other Palestinian areas with the support of the Israeli government, being given the freedom to “commit their crimes” and steal lands.

“There’s absolutely no deterrent, but if the attacker was a Palestinian, the scenario would be completely different,” he continued. “If the Israeli government had stopped these groups from attacking us from the beginning, my brother and his family would be alive today.”

As part of the agreement with the prosecution, the suspect admitted to helping prepare for the crime and other “racist” violations against Palestinians. The Ministry of Justice said that since he hadn’t been present on the night of the arson attack, he was not prosecuted for murder.

Right-wing Israelis say the suspect had been subjected to coercion and torture at the hands of Israeli investigators.

Ziad Abu Ziad, international media spokesperson for the Fatah movement, told The Media Line that the plea deal encouraged more “racist, extreme and fanatic” Israelis to continue killing Palestinians while knowing that they won’t be held accountable.

“The Israeli legal system proves again to be part of the apartheid Israeli machine that is racist in its actions,” Abu Ziad said.

He said that while the defendant had not been present at the time of the arson, the court failed to “mention facts about his history of ongoing terrorist attacks against Palestinians, including the burning of a holy church in Jerusalem.”

Even Israeli activists accuse the authorities of dragging their feet in cases where the attacker is an Israeli citizen.

Yariv Oppenheimer, former director of Peace Now, stressed to The Media Line that there was discrimination in the investigations and how the Israeli system addresses cases involving attacks between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The Israeli security forces definitely have more and wider tools when investigating a Palestinian attacker,” he said, though when the attacker is Israeli, they have less tools and intelligence.

“Let’s not forget that even if the security people try, the right-wing pressures them enormously,” Oppenheimer claimed.

He also pointed out that Israeli courts treat Palestinian attackers as terrorists, while not doing so with Israelis.

“The system classifies Arabs and Muslims as terrorists automatically,” he said.

In a separate case heard by the court in Lod, an Israeli minor was released to house arrest after being accused of killing Aisha al-Rabi, a mother of eight, who died when hit by a 2-kilogram rock that penetrated the windshield of the car she was in last October.

The court said the minor had intended only to injure the occupants of the vehicle.

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