Sentencing delayed in Duma case amid alleged contradictions in victim’s account

Sentencing delayed in Duma case amid alleged contradictions in victim’s account

Defense submits as evidence interviews of child, who was 5 at the time of 2015 attack, which allegedly give different account of what transpired than what’s written in indictment

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

Hussein Dawabsha (L) sits with his grandson Ahmad, the survivor of the arson attack that killed his parents and 18-month-old brother, in the West Bank village of Duma on May 18, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Hussein Dawabsha (L) sits with his grandson Ahmad, the survivor of the arson attack that killed his parents and 18-month-old brother, in the West Bank village of Duma on May 18, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The Lod District Court cleared for publication on Thursday the fact that new evidence had been submitted in the Duma terror trial by an attorney for an Israeli man convicted of carrying out a deadly 2015 firebombing that killed an 18-month-old boy and both his parents.

The evidence submitted last week were transcripts from a series of interviews given in recent months by the attack’s lone survivor, 10-year-old Ahmad Dawabsha, along with other members of his family. The defense claims they presented a different account of what transpired in the attack than what is described in the indictment against Amiram Ben Uliel, who was convicted in May of killing 18-month-old Ali and his parents, Riham and Saad, and seriously injuring Ahmad, who was five years old at the time.

The court agreed to clear for publication the fact that the evidence had been submitted, following a petition from the Haaretz daily. However, a gag order remains on the details of the evidence, so it was not immediately clear to which interviews the defense was referring.

Upon submitting the transcripts to the court last week, defense attorney Asher Ohayon requested that Ahmad be subpoenaed to testify to the apparent contradictions. The request was initially accepted by the court and the boy was scheduled to appear at a hearing this past Monday. Ohayon said he had requested a gag-order over the evidence to prevent the coaching of the 10-year-old ahead of his testimony.

Amiram Ben-Uliel in the Lod District Court on May 18, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)

On the day of the hearing, an attorney representing the Dawabsha family submitted a petition signed by dozens of psychologists which asserted that a child suffering from PTSD should not be forced to testify in court about an incident that happened five years ago when he was just five years old.

The judge then implored the sides to reach an agreement that would prevent forcing the young boy to appear in court. Ohayon told The Times of Israel that he had initially reached an agreement with the prosecution as a result of which Ahmad would not have to testify, but claimed that the prosecution was walking back on its end of the deal, and the boy may be forced to appear in court as a result.

A spokesperson for the prosecution could not be reached for comment.

Omar Khamaisi, an attorney representing the Dawabsha family, dismissed the significance that the defense was trying to attribute to interviews given by Ahmad. “You cannot use as evidence the words of a 10-year-old boy with PTSD regarding a traumatic event that took place five years ago,” he said.

As a result of the new evidence, the sentencing of Ben Uliel has been delayed.

Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. All three were killed when their home in Duma was firebombed on July 31, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)

At an earlier sentencing hearing last month, state prosecutors asked the Lod District Court to hand down three life sentences and 40 additional years behind bars to the 26-year-old religious extremist, who comes from an outpost outside the Shiloh settlement in the central West Bank.

The father of one was convicted last month on three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson, but acquitted on the charge of membership in a terror organization.

The prosecution asked the court to rule that Ben-Uliel had committed murders “of exceptional severity” and that the Dawabshas be given the maximum compensation allowed by the law.

Ben-Uliel confessed to the attack on several occasions during his interrogation by the Shin Bet security agency, but some of those confessions were thrown out by the court in 2018 after judges determined they had been given either during or immediately after he had undergone enhanced interrogation.

A Palestinian police member inspects the damage inside a burned-out house belonging to a key witness to the Duma attack, on March 20, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

Nonetheless, regarding the remaining confessions, the court ruled in May that they carried “considerable weight [and] were consistent with the findings at the apartment,” containing details too specific to have represented a false confession made by an innocent man.

The defense argued that their client was innocent and that even if he wasn’t, the interrogation tactics used by the Shin Bet should have been enough to have the case thrown out.

According to the conviction, Ben-Uliel and a teen accomplice had planned to carry out an attack against Palestinians as revenge for a drive-by shooting days earlier in which Israeli civilian Malachy Rosenfeld was killed.

When the younger accomplice failed to show up on time at the rendezvous point in July 2015, Ben-Uliel decided to carry out the attack on his own. He entered the Duma village and sprayed Hebrew graffiti on one home, then hurled Molotov cocktails through the windows of a pair of homes. The first building was empty, but in the second slept the Dawabsha family.

A Star of David and the Hebrew word ‘Revenge’ are spray-painted on the walls of the Dawabsha family home in Duma on July 31, 2015 (Zacahria Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights)

The teenage accomplice, whose name is barred from publication as he was a minor at the time of the incident, reached a plea agreement with the State Prosecutor’s Office last May in which he admitted to having planned the torching of the Dawabsha home.

In October, the Lod District Court ruled that he was a member of a terror organization, tacking the additional charge onto the rap sheet of the now-19-year-old.

In July 2019, the court released him to house arrest, less than two months after it threw out several of his confessions because they were extracted under extreme duress by interrogators of the Shin Bet security service.

The prosecution has asked the court not to sentence the accomplice to more than five and a half years in prison. Deducted from the sentence would be the time the teenager has already spent behind bars — about two and a half years.

The accomplice will be sentenced along with Ben-Uliel.

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