A Jewish Home lawmaker wrote in a column published Thursday that the deadly July firebombing attack in the West Bank village of Duma, in which three members of the Palestinian Dawabsha family were killed by presumably Jewish attackers, was not a terror attack.
Betzalel Smotrich’s comments were swiftly rejected by the leader of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, who wrote on Twitter: “Anyone who throws a firebomb at a house is a terrorist. Period.”
In an op-ed for the B’Sheva newspaper, which is closely linked to the settler movement, Smotrich maintained that the “price tag” attacks by Jewish youths are “serious crimes,” which may be nationalistically motivated, but should not be equated with terror attacks by Palestinians.
He also criticized the Shin Bet national security agency for implementing “draconian” anti-terror measures against Jewish suspects, including administrative detention.
“The murder in Duma, with all its severity, is not a terror attack. Period,” he wrote. “Those who call it terror are perverting the truth, unjustifiably inflicting great harm to human and civil rights, making themselves like UN officials, whose job it is to maintain order ‘on both sides,’ and cheapening the concept of terror, and as a result, at the end of the day undermining the effectiveness of the efforts to combat it.”
“Terror is exclusively violence by an enemy as part of a war against us, and only this justifies the harsh steps taken [by the security forces] that would not be used in a normal situation. All the rest are serious crimes, loathsome crimes, nationalistic crimes, but not terror,” he wrote.
The right-wing legislator further charged that the Shin Bet “crossed all red lines” in recent weeks, in an apparent reference to the Duma investigation. Smotrich appeared to break a gag order on the probe, referring to specific suspects that had been taken in for questioning.
Last week, the police said they had arrested several suspects to investigate “concrete suspicions” that they were involved in the deadly July attack, which left three members of a Palestinian family dead.
On Friday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan admitted investigators did not yet have sufficient evidence to press charges.
In the firebombing, Ali Dawabsha, the family’s 18-month-old son, was burned to death; his parents, Saad and Riham, succumbed to their injuries in Israeli hospitals in the aftermath of the attack. The sole survivor is 4-year-old Ahmed, who is still hospitalized.
The attack was widely condemned across the spectrum of Israeli society, with figures on the right and left decrying the attack and calling for swift justice.
Details of the investigation, including the identities of the suspects, remain under a gag order.
Smotrich lamented that settlers and others could be punished for association with suspects, with police measures used against Palestinians also being meted out against Jews.
“If ‘price tag’ attacks are ‘terror,’ then the families of the suspects are ‘the families of terrorists’ and the residents of their settlements and officials there are ‘a terror-supporting population,'” Smotrich continued. Therefore, “you can hold youths in detention for over two weeks without letting them meet their lawyers, or even seeing a judge to extend their remand. You can prevent them from putting on their phylacteries, praying or lighting Hannukah candles.”
Smotrich accused the government of “demonizing” the population of Israeli settlers, maintained it was violating the rights of the suspects to exact a confession by force, and appeared to insinuate that the government was driving the perpetrators to commit anti-Arab attacks.
A government that “treats the most moral population in the State of Israel as a terror-supporting population loses its right to exist,” he wrote. “When you push an entire community up against the wall, treat its [members] like terrorists, demonize it, trample on its rights, it ultimately explodes. Let no one be surprised when this should happen, when more and more people will be pushed, against their will, to carry out actions that are forbidden.”
“A system that does not make this simple and especially moral distinction between enemy and and citizen — even if he is a criminal — raises questions about the justification to give it so much power and authority, with so little oversight and supervision, even if in most cases it uses its powers correctly against terror.”