Amiram Ben-Uliel (in white shirt) is shown on May 18 being led into a courtroom in Lod, a city near Tel Aviv, to hear the verdict in his murder case for the fatal 2015 firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma. (Avshalom Sasson - pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Palestinians Unhappy Only One Israeli Convicted for Fatal Firebombing

Officials, legal activists say 2015 West Bank attack, which killed three – including a toddler – was well organized, and not work of an individual

A district court in Israel has convicted a former Jewish settler, Amiram Ben-Uliel, of murder for the July 2015 firebomb attack in the West Bank village of Duma that killed three members of the Dawabshe family, including 18-month-old Ali.

Ali’s parents, Sa’ad and Riham, died later of their wounds. His four-year-old brother, Ahmed, suffered serious burns but survived.

Ben-Uliel was acquitted on charges of membership in a terror group – something that elicited discontent among Palestinians, who call the Duma attack a case of terrorism and say the defendant could not have executed it alone.

Indeed, a 19-year-old who was a minor at the time of the firebombing plea-bargained a lower-level conviction, saying he had known of Ben-Uliel’s plan but did not participate in the attack.

Walid Assaf, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission (CWRC,) said Ben-Uliel had not been alone in murdering the Dawabshe family.

“There were three other members involved in this organized crime, but they were acquitted by the court,” Assaf told The Media Line. “One person alone could not execute such an attack.”

The minor and two others had also been charged with membership in a terrorist organization.

Assaf contends that the intent was to try only Ben-Uliel “in order to find a way later to pardon and free him,” adding that the court sought all along to “deliver a message that there are no terror groups in Israel,” only individuals who might practice terror.

The resulting message, he stressed, was that settlers in the West Bank “can continue with their criminal operations against Palestinians.”

Gonen Ben-Itzhak, a former official in the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, said the attack indicated the existence of an infrastructure, even if just for the Duma firebombing.

“Maybe the terror attack itself is something they [the perpetrators] decided, but of course, there is infrastructure behind it.”

When asked about the Palestinian explanation for Ben-Uliel being the only one tried – because it is easier to release one person later, perhaps under justifications of mental or health issues – he said: “This might be [the case].”

Ben-Itzhak added that despite his lack of awareness about Jewish terrorists in the West Bank, he wasn’t all that surprised.

“We know that the ‘price-tag’ attacks, including attacking Palestinians in the West Bank and attacking holy places in the West Bank, is something that is organized,” he stated, referring to a name derived by the perpetrators because they are carried out as the “price” for attacks against Israelis.

“To this day, we have not seen that the organization [is being] handled, only some individuals stopped on the way,” he noted.

Last year, the Israeli Justice Ministry confirmed that Ben-Uliel had admitted culpability in a “racist crime” as part of a plea deal worked out with the prosecution. Under the agreement, the prosecutor would reportedly seek a maximum term of five and a half years in prison.

Sentencing is due to be handed down next month.

A lawyer for the Dawabshe family says his clients oppose the agreement and demand a more severe punishment.

Shawan Jabarin, head of Al-Haq, a Ramallah-based human rights organization, says the attack was so heinous that the Israeli authorities could not ignore it.

“The humanitarian aspect of the crime obligated Israel to do something about it,” he told The Media Line, adding he nevertheless believes that people in “powerful positions in the Israeli settlement movement” made sure that only one person was placed on trial.

“We have learned from previous experience with the Israeli occupation that the Israeli attackers and killers of Palestinians don’t serve the full sentence ordered by the courts,” he said, citing amnesties issued by Israel’s president.

“Our journey of 53 years [under occupation] has proved that settler attackers don’t stay long in prison,” he said, “and I doubt that Ben-Uliel will serve his full sentence behind bars.”

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