In a nutshell, someone set their house on fire while the Dawabshe family was sleeping within, a young child died in the fire, and his parents succumbed to their burns sometime later. Hebrew graffiti was found on the house.
Although there was a strong possibility that the fire was set by Arabs from the village who were involved in a feud with the Dawabshes, security officials and even President Rivlin announced on the morning after the fire, when the investigation had barely begun, that Jewish terrorists had set the fire.
Israeli security forces did not investigate the possibility that Arabs set the fire, leaving investigation inside the village up to Palestinian Authority police. Not so surprisingly, they found nothing. But from the beginning, a lot of things didn’t add up.
The Internal Security Service (Shabak) requested and got permission to use exceptional methods to obtain convictions. Several suspects were taken and held in administrative detention without being charged, were not allowed to see their attorneys for an extended period, and were subjected to what were called “aggressive interrogation techniques,” which their lawyers have described as torture.
In August, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed his certainty that he knew who had set the deadly fire:
“I have no doubt we are holding the correct people in administrative detention,” he said of Jewish detainees such as Meir Ettinger, the 23-year-old grandson of assassinated extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the outlawed anti-Arab Kach organization.
When asked if he believed Ettinger was linked to the deadly arson attack, Ya’alon said “Ultimately, in principle, yes.”
Ultimately, in principle? How can someone be arrested for a crime committed in principle? What does that even mean?
The suspects are young people living in the territories, some of them minors, some of whom were involved in so-called “price tag” vandalism and perhaps assaults intended to get revenge against Arabs and other targets (a Christian church, army vehicles, Arab-owned agriculture). They also subscribe to a subversive political/religious ideology which does not recognize the government of Israel and calls for its overthrow and the establishment of a kingdom governed by Jewish law.
Their activities were used by the Arabs and their supporters to delegitimize all Jews living in the territories, and considered ‘terrorism’, although their crimes were almost entirely against property, not people. The security forces were apparently unable to arrest them, and were alleged to be deliberately protecting them (which was untrue). They were a great embarrassment and frustration for the government and security forces.
But despite the pressure that has been applied, the suspects did not confess. Some were released when it became clear that they could not be linked to the Duma arson. Ettinger and two others are still being held.
The Shabak has responded to the allegations of torture and other improprieties with a statement that appears to confirm my suspicion that it does not have actual evidence tying the suspects to the crime. Here is the relevant part [links in English, Hebrew]:
Recently, a Jewish terrorist organization has been investigated. Its operatives are suspected of severe terrorist attacks, which endangered lives, holy sites, and property.
This organization is characterized by an extreme, anti-Zionist ideology, which aims to use violent means to topple the State of Israel, including through terrorist acts to promote its goals.
Terrorist attacks carried out by the organization led to [הובילו], among others, the murder of three innocent Palestinians, and as a result, contributed to instability in the region, and worsened the security situation. [my emphasis]
How did they lead to the murders? Who committed them? Does the Shabak know? Why aren’t the actual murderers in custody?
No matter how embarrassing for the security forces and no matter how reprehensible the behavior of these youths or repugnant and dangerous their ideology; no matter how important it seems to officials to get them off the street, it is elementary that a democratic state that guards the rights of its citizens does not beat them into confessing to horrific murders that they did not commit.
It is conceivable that the security forces know that the suspects did not commit the murders, and used the occasion to justify the extraordinary actions that they felt were needed to get them to confess to their ‘price-tag’ activities. This is no less unacceptable.
Whoever decided to focus only on the Jewish terrorism angle is guilty of serious malfeasance. If Arabs were responsible for the fire, four months after the fact evidence will have been destroyed and the perpetrators long gone. The suspects may be convicted of various lesser crimes, but unless the real perpetrators are found, the world will continue to believe that ‘Jewish settler terrorists’ burned three innocent people to death. A blood libel will have been made against ‘settlers’ and the Jewish people as a whole.
This cannot be allowed to pass by. The state must give the suspects their basic rights and must make a serious effort to properly solve the case and arrest the murderers, whether they be Jews or Arabs. And whoever is responsible for the disastrous way this incident has been handled needs to go, even if it turns out to be the otherwise competent and dedicated Minister of Defense.
It would be painful to confirm that Jewish terrorists have committed this ugly crime. It would be worse to know that our government and security services have made a false accusation of murder for political purposes.