Security forces have only a “general idea” of who is responsible for the deadly firebombing attack in the Palestinian village in Duma, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday, calling on reporters to take a wait and see approach to the case.
The statement appeared to walk back comments attributed to Ya’alon earlier in the day to the effect that Israel had tracked down the perpetrators of the attack.
The firebombing of the Dawabsha family home in July killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha and mortally injured his parents, who died in the following weeks. The deaths prompted outrage among the Palestinians, in Israel and across the international community. Ali’s 4-year-old brother survived the attack, which was widely attributed to Jewish extremists.
Ya’alon, echoing comments made by a senior IDF official earlier this week, dismissed speculation propounded by some right-wing Israelis that the attack was carried out by Palestinians.
“We are unfortunately convinced that the attack in Duma was carried out by Jews,” he told reporters.
“It is one of the most extremist groups, whose goal was to set fire to the area and harm many lives,” Ya’alon explained, “much more than the ‘price tag’ attacks we have come across.” He was using the popular term for Jewish hate-crime assaults and acts of vandalism against Palestinians and religious sites.
On Thursday morning, Ya’alon was quoted as saying that security forces knew the identities of the attackers, but had refrained from charging them for fear of exposing intelligence sources.
The widely reported remarks were allegedly made during a meeting with young members of the Likud party ahead of the upcoming Jewish High Holidays.
During Ya’alon’s later briefing with reporters he dismissed the remarks attributed to him, asserting that the exact identities of the perpetrators were not yet known. However, he added, “we have some general ideas of who carried out the attacks.
“That’s why we’ve carried out administrative detentions and signed restraining orders — to prevent more incidents,” Ya’alon said.
Administrative detention is a controversial law enforcement tool, in which suspects can be held without trial for a variety of reasons, including to avoid disclosing intelligence, explained Meir Elran, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank.
The practice, though denounced by some as a violation of civil rights, has been in use against Palestinian suspects for years and was approved last month at Ya’alon’s request for use against Jewish Israelis as well.
Meir Ettinger, grandson of the assassinated extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, who led the outlawed ultranationalist Kach Party, was among those detained under the new order, allegedly for inciting hatred.
However, contradicting the comments earlier attributed to him, the defense minister said he wasn’t saying that any of the suspects currently being held in administrative detention were responsible for the attack.
“Let’s wait and see,” he said.
Knowing the group responsible for the attack is not the same as knowing who threw the bomb, said Elran, who leads the homeland security program at the Institute for National Security Studies.
“Knowing who is responsible in a general sense,” he added, “does not mean that we know who carried out the attack.”
Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint (Arab) List accused Ya’alon earlier in the day of not doing enough to bring the attackers to justice.
“The defense minister has turned a blind eye to the extremists who are behind the death of the Dawabsha family,” she said. “Although he knows who is behind the murder, the atrocious criminals will not be prosecuted. Would that also be the case if a Jewish family were murdered?”
Four-year-old Ahmed Dawabsha, the sole survivor of the Duma attack, is still hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center near Ramat Gan with burns over much of his body.
Media reports after the attack quoted security sources as saying that the attackers had fled on foot in the direction of nearby settlements. However, a gag order was placed on details of the investigation, and it still remains in force.