Court rejects defense’s bid to upend conviction in Duma arson case

The Lod District Court rejected on Monday a bid by defense attorneys to overturn the conviction of an Israeli man found guilty of carrying out a deadly 2015 firebombing that killed an 18-month-old boy and his parents.

Amiram Ben Uliel, 26, along with a teenage accomplice, is set to be sentenced next Monday for the 2015 arson attack in Duma. The attack, one of the most brutal acts of Jewish terror in recent years, claimed the lives of Sa’ad and Riham Dawabsha and their 18-month-old son Ali. Five-year-old Ahmed was the lone survivor of the attack.

The defense had alleged recently that interviews given by Ahmed, now 10, to Al Jazeera in January of this year contradicted evidence the court had used to convict Ben Uliel.

But the court ruled that the interviews could not be used to establish what happened on the night of the attack.

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

The defense is planning to appeal to the Supreme Court, according to Army Radio.

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.”

Ben Uliel, a father of one, was convicted in May 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.

In late July, after the sentencing hearing, Ben Uliel’s defense attorneys submitted a request for the court to review his conviction in light of the interviews given by Ahmed Dawabsha.

While Ben Uliel has been convicted of carrying out the crime alone — although he allegedly plotted it with a teenage accomplice who ultimately didn’t show up — Ahmad appeared to refute that, saying multiple settlers were present at the scene.

“How many settlers were there?” the Al Jazeera interviewer asked Ahmed, who paused to think.

“Three, I think. Maybe more, I don’t know,” he then replied.

Ahmed later told Al Jazeera that when he fled the burning house the settlers aimed weapons at him and fired, sending bullets ricocheting off the wall behind him. He pointed at where they supposedly fired during the interview.

The court case did not involve any evidence of gunfire in the incident.

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)

According to court filings, Ben Uliel’s defense attorneys argued that Ahmed’s version of three attackers was reliable, and that trauma had “etched it into his memory.” The defense said that such an account would “raise enough doubt for [Ben Uliel] to be acquitted.”

Judge Ruth Lorch ruled that Ahmed’s young age as well as the intense physical and emotional trauma he underwent that same night cast doubts on his ability to faithfully recall what had taken place.

“I believe that no factual findings can be determined based on his version, as it cannot be determined that the statements he provided are reliable,” Lorch said.

Ahmed had at one point been called into court to testify, but the defense successfully asserted that a child suffering from PTSD should not be forced to take the witness stand.

Lorch said that Ahmed’s version contained contradictions and ambiguities; without expert interrogation, she said, the fragments of his narrative that which had appeared in the media could thus not be used in a court of law.

“It is not possible to say which part of his remarks is based on the reliable memory of a five-year-old child and which part is merely him adopting stories he’s heard or completed from his imagination,” Lorch wrote.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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