State seeks 3 life terms for Israeli murderer of Palestinian couple and child
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State seeks 3 life terms for Israeli murderer of Palestinian couple and child

At sentencing hearing, Hussein Dawabsha says he didn’t bring surviving grandson for fear he would get nightmares from seeing Amiram Ben-Uliel, who killed his parents and brother

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

Amiram Ben Uliel (left), convicted of carrying out the Duma terror attack, arrives for a hearing at the Lod District Court on June 9, 2020. (Tomer Appelbaum/Haaretz/Pool)
Amiram Ben Uliel (left), convicted of carrying out the Duma terror attack, arrives for a hearing at the Lod District Court on June 9, 2020. (Tomer Appelbaum/Haaretz/Pool)

State prosecutors asked the Lod District Court on Tuesday to hand down three life sentences and 40 additional years behind bars to the perpetrator of the 2015 terrorist firebombing of a Palestinian home that resulted in the deaths of three family members sleeping inside.

The request was made during the sentencing hearing for Amiram Ben-Uliel, a 26-year-old religious extremist 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.

On July 12, the court will hand down its sentence for Ben-Uliel, who hurled the firebomb into the Dawabsha home in the central West Bank village of Duma that burned to death 18-month-old Ali and his parents, Riham and Saad, and seriously injured four-year-old Ahmad.

Ahmad’s grandfather Hussein and uncle Nasr, who have been caring for him since the incident, testified at Tuesday’s hearing regarding the attack’s impact on their family.

Hussein characterized as “torture” the year following the firebombing, half of which he spent in the hospital where Ahmad was recovering from severe burns.

Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. All three died when the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed on July 31, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)

“Every day, Ahmad asks, please, to see his parents. Who can look at his situation and see any desire to live?” he asked.

“Ahmad is ashamed to swim with his friends. Every part of his body [has] burn [scars],” Hussein said, holding up a picture of his grandson.

The grandfather testified that he had wanted to bring his grandson to the hearing to show the court the damage caused to the now 10-year-old. “But Ahmad had one request for me. He told me, ‘Grandfather, if you promise me that I will not see him (Ben-Uliel) in my dreams, I will come. It’s bad enough that I don’t live during the day, but you also want me not to live at night? Have mercy on me,'” Hussein recalled his grandson as having said.

In his testimony, Nasr described arriving at the scene as the Dawabsha house was still burning. “It was hell. The heat was blistering, there were explosions and smoke… When I entered with the emergency forces, my leg hit something soft. When I lifted it up, [I saw that] it was Ali.”

“Until this day, Ahmed does not accept that he has lost his family… When his teacher asked him to draw the number of family members in the house, Ahmad painted four people,” Nasr testified.

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)

In a rare decision, the court allowed Ben-Uliel’s attorney Yitzhak Bam to cross-examine Nasr, who told the court that he condemns violence. The defense lawyer claimed the Ahmad’s uncle had shared posts on Facebook praising Yahya Ayyash, a notorious Hamas bomb-maker who was killed by Israel.

“I believe in peace. The Palestinian Authority believes in peace and reaches out its hand in peace,” Nasr responded before the Judge Ruth Lorch cut him off and said that the line of questioning was irrelevant to the hearing.

Bam also claimed that Riham Dawabsha had been a Hamas activist, basing the assertion on a post made by the terror group after the Duma attack lauding the 28-year-old mother. That contention, too, was deemed by the judges as irrelevant to the sentencing hearing.

After the hearing, a brief shouting match broke out between Ben-Uliel’s family members and Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, who was accompanying the Dawabshas at the hearing along with several other lawmakers from the majority-Arab party. “You have no shame. You burned a family!” Tibi shouted at them.

Defending its sentencing request, the prosecution’s representative asserted that Ben-Uliel had “made a decision to murder Arabs simply because they are Arabs.”

Hussein Dawabsha (left) sits with his grandson Ahmad, the survivor of the arson attack, at their home in Duma on May 18, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

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.

Nonetheless, regarding the remaining confessions, the court ruled Monday 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 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.

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

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 members of the Dawabsha family, who were burned alive in the attack.

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 already spent behind bars — about two and a half years.

The accomplice will be sentenced along with Ben-Uliel at next month’s hearing.

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