Rising support for Jew convicted of fire-bombing Arab family

In July 2015, two homes located in the Palestinian village of Duma were set on fire with Molotov cocktails. An 18-month-old child was killed, and three more family members were hospitalized with severe burns. Both his parents died from their injuries within weeks..

Amiram Ben Uliel was indicted in 2016 and found guilty in 2020 of three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, arson, and conspiring to commit a racially motivated crime, as part of a “terrorist act.” He was sentenced to three life terms for murder, 17 years for attempted murder, and 10 years for arson. A  minor, whose name was not cleared for publication, was indicted on charges of having assisted Ben Uliel.  

On Monday night, 300 people participated in a conference titled “Saving Amiram Ben Uliel” with speakers Jonathan Pollard and Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Sonn Har Melech who visited Ben Uliel using her parliamentary rights, calling him a “holy man…not a murderer”.

MK Sonn Har Melech said, “I do not support a murderer, I know he is innocent. If I stand by and watch how he is being abused – I will be an accomplice to the crime. There has never been a prisoner who spent eight years in solitary confinement, cut off from people and the world. There is something hidden there, a big lie, an injustice.”

 Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu echoed a similar sentiment on Thursday saying: 

“Every murderer, no matter his religion or national identity, must be punished to the fullest,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, in the case of Ben Oliel, there are serious doubts as to the correct identification. The feeling of many, including mine, is that there is serious concern that the Duma murderer is walking free. A torture-based confession is not usable evidence, and as we saw in the case of [Roman] Zadorov, you can teach a suspect to ‘reconstruct’ secret details.”

These sentiments were widely  criticized and Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi called Son Har Melech a neo-Nazi and said that “she needs to buy a brown uniform.”

From the first day of the investigation, Israeli authorities imposed a press embargo on the subject, banning the media from publishing any details or developments related to the investigation. From the outset, the investigation was hampered by a lack of physical evidence.  

Israeli police initially suspected that the arson was carried out by “extremist Israeli settlers”  and several Jewish suspects were arrested and interrogated by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) and police. 

The Zionist Organization of America alleged that Jews were being “falsely accused” of carrying out the attack, and accused it of being the work of other Palestinians, as part of “an 18-year-old feud between Arab clans” in the village. Four other houses had already been torched due to a feud within the clan before the incident that led to Ben Uliel’s conviction. In May 2018, another Dawabsheh clan home was destroyed in the village of Duma near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus; all family members were barely able to escape injury. While some Palestinians said Jewish settlers were responsible for the fire, others said the fire was the result of a feud within the village. The police investigation concluded the fire was likely caused by an electrical short circuit.

Arab residents claimed to have seen two people enter the village but  the conviction says he acted alone. Witnesses said that there was a car, while the confession claims he came by foot. 

During the trial, both defendants submitted a motion to dismiss the confessions they gave at the initial stage of their interrogation in which the security forces used “special interrogation measures”, a euphemism for torture. According to the court, Ben Uliel was arrested and remained silent for 17 days, denying all involvement until these “special measures” were used, after which he confessed.

Israeli courts have long addressed the legality of “special interrogation methods”: a cluster of rough tactics that includes subjecting the interrogee to painful stress positions, tight shackling and sleep deprivation which have been ruled to be illegal. 

In an unsuccessful appeal filed last year, lawyers for Ben Uliel told the justices that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) tortured him during his interrogation, which should have invalidated his confession that led to his acquittal.

Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir Attacked the court’s ruling last year, saying, “Today there is no dispute that Ben Uliel’s confession was given after he was interrogated under torture and this is a case of abject injustice. The laws of the State of Israel require the rejection of the confession, but unfortunately, the Supreme Court justices ignored this or did not give any real weight to this conduct. The Supreme Court ruled that he was tortured and instead of setting him free and issuing a logical ruling, the court sent him to three life sentences. It’s a black day for democracy.”

A fundraiser was begun by musician Ariel Zilber on Tuesday and ended on Thursday after 14 MKs signed a petition last week demanding better conditions for Ben Oliel. The fundraiser reached 1.2 million shekels. 

Several leading singers announced Thursday that they were canceling their participation in an 80th-birthday concert with Zilber after his public expression of support for Ben Uliel.

Ben Uliel has been in solitary confinement since his arrest. He is only allowed to leave the cell for about two hours a day to a closed yard by himself. His family is allowed to visit him once every two weeks for about half an hour, speaking through a glass partition. He was forbidden to go to the synagogue and participate in prayer services and was allowed to keep only five religious books in his cell.He was recently allowed to be moved to the religious section for the Jewish holidays. 

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