Israelis charged over deadly arson attack on Palestinian family
The charges are the first step in a legal case whose slow progress rights groups have criticised.
They come more than five months after the pre-dawn attack on the Dawabsha family home in the West Bank village of Duma that killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha, and fatally wounded his parents.
His brother, who was four at the time of the attack on July 31, was the sole survivor from the immediate family.
Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, from the northern settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank, was charged with three counts of murder and one of attempted murder, arson and conspiracy to commit a hate crime, said the Israeli court indictment.
A 17-year-old, who remained unnamed under a gag order, was charged with being an accessory to committing a racially motivated murder.
Ben-Uliel and the minor, who lived in another wildcat settlement near Duma at the time, in July 2015 plotted to avenge a Palestinian shooting dead Malachi Rosenfeld near Shilo one month earlier, a statement from the justice ministry said.
– ‘He was at home’ –
The attack drew renewed attention to Jewish extremism and accusations Israel had not done enough to prevent such violence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu labelled it “terrorism” — a word usually used by Israelis to refer to violence committed by Palestinians.
Israel came under heavy pressure to try those responsible, with rights groups questioning the delay in the case and contrasting it to the swift reaction often following Palestinian attacks.
The Shin Bet internal security service held suspects under administrative detention, denied some of them the right to see a lawyer part of the time and used physical force during investigations.
Supporters of the suspects — religious extremists known as “hilltop youth” who oppose the “secular” Israeli state — denounced those methods as torture.
Shin Bet denies using any illegal methods, and has stressed that the entire investigation was conducted under the supervision of attorney general Yehuda Weinstein.
Ben-Uliel’s wife Orian on Sunday denounced the charges as she left the court room and said her husband had been “tortured to give information on acts he didn’t commit”.
“I know he was at home that night and that he didn’t do anything,” he said.
The minor was also accused of having taken part in an arson attack on the Dormition Abbey in east Jerusalem.
Two other Israelis, including a minor, were charged for implication in “other terrorist acts”.
These included the arson attacks on the Dormition Abbey in May 2014 and the Church of the Multiplication in June 2015, as well as vandalism of Palestinian property.
Christians believe the church on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus performed the miracle of loaves and fishes.
– ‘Trial a parody’ –
The charges follow criticism last month over a video of gun-waving Jewish extremists celebrating the murder the Dawabsha toddler.
Netanyahu called the video “shocking” and said it showed “the true face of a group that constitutes a danger to Israeli society and to the security of Israel”.
Israel arrested four Jewish men suspected of being among them.
But his grandparents, whom AFP met at home next to their son’s torched house in Duma, said they did not believe in “unfair Israeli justice”.
“This trial is a parody,” Mohammad Dawabsha, 68, said. “If they really wanted to punish them, they would have done it the first day and would have told us from the beginning that it was them who killed our children.”
In the Duma attack on July 31, masked assailants reportedly hurled Molotov cocktails through the windows of the Dawabsha home, which were left open because of the summer heat.
Graffiti left at the site, witness reports and the proximity of Israeli settlements led suspicions to fall immediately on Jewish extremists.
The arson attack followed days of tensions over West Bank settlements, with rightwing groups opposing the demolition of two buildings under construction that the Israeli High Court said were illegal.
The international community regards all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal but Israel makes a distinction between those it has authorised and those it has not.