A fundraising campaign aimed at freeing from prison a Jewish extremist convicted of killing three members of a Palestinian family in a 2015 arson attack has raised over NIS 1.2 million (over $300,000), with more donations pouring in.
Amiram Ben Uliel was 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 is serving three life sentences plus 20 years for the firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma, in which Riham and Saad Dawabsha were killed along with their 18-month-old son, Ali Saad. Only the couple’s 5-year-old son, Ahmed, survived the terror attack, with extensive burns.
The drive to have his conviction quashed, titled “Amiram also deserves justice,” gained headlines earlier this week when far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech spoke at a fundraising event for the campaign, insisting Ben Uliel was innocent and describing him as a “holy righteous man.”
As of Thursday morning, the online crowdfunding campaign had scooped up NIS 1,203,307 ($315,739) from over 6,020 donors.
Galit Mesika donated NIS 1,800 ($470) to the campaign, which is aiming to raise NIS 1.6 million ($418,641) and ends Thursday evening.
“They framed him. He must be released,” she told The Times of Israel. “I completely believe he was a scapegoat.”
“I think they want to keep him quiet,” she added, referring to Ben Uliel’s continued incarceration in solitary confinement.
Mesika cited a video in which one of the activists leading the campaign claims to have met with a resident of Duma, who allegedly told him Ben Uliel is innocent and that the firebombing was carried out by a local resident due to a feud between neighbors.
She said she hopes to see Ben Uliel released after a retrial that will find him innocent.
Among those who have reportedly donated to the campaign are former MK Moshe Feiglin; the head of the ultra-nationalist homophobic anti-Arab Lehava group, Bentzi Gopstein; right-wing singer Ariel Zilber; and far-right rabbis Dov Lior, Elyakim Levanon, and Yehuda Shapira.
Channel 12 reported that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s office denied social media rumors that he had contributed to the fund.
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.
Rock stars Shalom Hanoch and Aviv Geffen both announced they were pulling out of the concert, while Arkadi Duchin told Ynet he was also considering withdrawing.
“I am completely opposed to his support for this issue,” Duchin said.
There were also calls on social media to boycott Zilber’s music.
Ben Uliel was 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 is serving three life sentences plus 20 years for the 2015 firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma, in which Riham and Saad Dawabsha were killed along with their 18-month-old son, Ali Saad. Only the couple’s 5-year-old son, Ahmed, survived the terror attack, with extensive burns.
In her remarks, which were recorded in a video published Tuesday, Son Har-Melech said, “I don’t support a murderer. I know he is innocent.”
She then recounted a visit she made to Ben Uliel in prison and hailed him as “this righteous man, this holy righteous man [tzaddik], really.” The lawmaker also protested that Ben Uliel has been held in solitary confinement since his imprisonment started, which she described as “unprecedented.”
She was denounced over her remarks by a number of opposition lawmakers, as well as MK Almog Cohen, also of Otzma Yehudit.
“The last thing I would do is call him a righteous man,” Cohen told the Ynet news outlet on Wednesday, while noting, “I heard that his confession [Ben Uliel’s] was extracted through torture. The matter needs to be checked.”
Supporters of Ben Uliel have largely focused on the fact that his confession was obtained using what the Shin Bet calls “special measures” — decried as torture by him and by rights groups.
Interior Minister Moshe Arbel of Shas also said he “deeply regrets” Son Har-Melech’s remarks.
“The need to take care of the rights of interrogated detainees and accused persons does not mean making them righteous and saints,” he said in a statement. “In a Jewish state, every child memorizes from early childhood the Ten Commandments, including the sixth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not murder,’ which absolutely forbids taking the life of another.”
The Kan public broadcaster reported that Ayala Ben Gvir, the wife of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, said her husband was working to improve Ben Uliel’s prison conditions.
According to the report, Ayala Ben Gvir posted a message to a WhatsApp group called “Freeing Amiram” saying that the minister was seeing to it that Ben Uliel has conditions that are “make a little more sense,” and will include access to telephones and books. She also said that Ben Uliel will spend the 2024 Passover holiday together with other religious prisoners rather than remaining in solitary confinement.
Last week, Har-Melech was one of 14 coalition lawmakers — more than half of them from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party — who appealed to Shin Bet security chief Ronen Bar for Ben Uliel’s incarceration conditions to be eased, claiming he was being held “under the most difficult incarceration conditions in the State of Israel.”
Prison officials approved Ben Uliel’s transfer to the “Torah wing” for Rosh Hashanah over the weekend, before moving him back to solitary confinement.