Court orders release of Jewish suspect in arson attack on Jerusalem mosque

Court orders release of Jewish suspect in arson attack on Jerusalem mosque

10 days after arrest of 20-year-old resident of Ariel settlement, during which he was barred from meeting with counsel, judge rules he be placed under house arrest

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Palestinians visit a torched mosque in the Arab neighborhood of Sharafat in East Jerusalem on January 24, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Palestinians visit a torched mosque in the Arab neighborhood of Sharafat in East Jerusalem on January 24, 2020 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday ordered the release of a Jewish suspect who allegedly participated in an arson attack against a Jerusalem mosque last month.

The judge ordered the 20-year-old resident of the Ariel city-settlement in the northern West Bank placed under house arrest until an appeal hearing is held on Thursday, after which the restrictions on his release will be further lifted if the state’s appeal is denied.

Police arrested the suspect ten days ago, and during that time he was barred from meeting with an attorney — a tactic sometimes employed by law enforcement while probing what it says are urgent security cases.

The defendant’s attorney from the Honenu legal aid organization, which regularly represents Jewish terror suspects, said the court’s decision on Wednesday represented a blow to the Shin Bet and Israeli law enforcement.

Graffiti on a wall by a mosque in Beit Safafa, Jerusalem, 24 January 2020 (Israel Police)

“Another case has fallen apart after an innocent man was barred from meeting an attorney despite there having been no evidence against him,” Adi Keidar said.

The suspect — whose name is barred from publication — is alleged to have been involved in torching a mosque in the Sharafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem on January 24.  Fire services were dispatched to the East Jerusalem mosque and managed to put out the blaze before serious damage could be caused.

Police opened an investigation into the attack and distributed photos from the scene, showing that the vandals had spray-painted in Hebrew “Destroy [the property of] Jews? Kumi Ori destroys [the property of] enemies!” before fleeing.

Kumi Ori is a flashpoint outpost neighborhood of the Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank where security forces razed a pair of illegally built homes earlier this month.

A day after the arson incident, roughly 200 Jewish Israelis paid a solidarity visit to the mosque and donated funds to repair the damage.

Hundreds of Jews pay a solidarity visit to a mosque in Sharafat that was torched in an apparent hate crime on January 25, 2020. (Tag Meir)

Anti-Arab vandalism by Jewish extremists has become a common occurrence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Incidents of vandalism against Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Israel are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks, with perpetrators claiming they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.

On Tuesday, police opened an investigation into an apparent hate crime in the northern Arab town of Jish, where the tires of some 170 vehicles were slashed and Hebrew graffiti condemning interfaith coexistence was daubed on buildings.

“Jews wake up and stop assimilating!” graffitied on a building in Jish in an apparent hate crime on February 11, 2020. (Twitter)

Arrests of perpetrators of price tag attacks have been exceedingly rare and rights groups lament that convictions are even more unusual, with the majority of charges in such cases being dropped.

Recent months have seen developments in a number of Jewish terror cases.

On Monday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed off on a rare administrative detention order against another Jewish terror suspect alleged to have thrown a rock at an oncoming vehicle, striking and moderately injuring the Palestinian driver inside. But less than a day after signing off on the order, Bennett walked it back following backlash from far-right activists and ordered the 19-year-old released under restrictive conditions.

Last month, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against a far-right Jewish activist, charging him with attempting to carry out a hate attack in an Arab Israeli town.

A week earlier, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court released to house arrest three Israeli far-right suspects in a similar security-related case. The ruling came several days after Judge Ophir Katavi-Rivlin slammed the conduct of the Shin Bet over tactics it used to interrogate two of the suspects in the Jewish terror case, including sleep deprivation and midnight interrogations. The Shin Bet denied using illegal measures.

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