Into the Fray: The forgotten fire?

Last week’s fires did little to illuminate much of the unknown still shrouding another conflagration that flared up, almost a year and a half ago.

 I feel a sense of shame, and even more, a sense of pain…at the murder of a small baby. Pain that from my people, there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity…To my great sorrow, until now it seems we have been lax in our treatment of the phenomena of Jewish terrorism…

– Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel, August 1, 2015, the day after the lethal arson in Duma, perpetrated by persons, whose identity and ethnicity have yet to be determined.

 Last week, fires raged across Israel, some close enough to my home for me to smell the smoke.  According to official sources, a good number of the fires were the result of deliberate arson, which, fortunately, seemed to have caused no fatalities—although this could hardly be presumed to have been the perpetrators intent.

Forgotten flames?

But last week’s blaze did little to illuminate much of the unknown still shrouding another conflagration that flared up, almost a year and a half ago, in Duma, an Arab village about 35 km NE of Jerusalem.  In its aftermath, flames of prejudice, hysteria and hyperbole swept through the country, consuming virtually all it encountered in its path –particularly any regard for the truth and dispassionate analysis.

To recap briefly, on July 31, 2015, the entire country was horrified by reports of three members of the Dawabsheh family from Duma being burnt to death in an early morning arson attack on their home.  Graffiti, in Hebrew script, painted on the walls of the burnt  out  house, led to the precipitous conclusion that the act was committed by “Jewish terrorists”.

Significantly, there have been numerous acts of arson in Duma involving the Dawabsheh clan. Indeed, since the fatal July 2015 attack, at least three other houses have been torched –as were two prior to it—without any allegation of involvement of “Jewish extremists”.

Despite this, and despite a total lack of any indication as to the identity/ethnicity of the assailants (apart from the Hebrew script graffiti), both the media and politicians across the entire political spectrum were quick to accuse Jewish religious radicals of the deed.

The haste to hate

Thus, hours after the news of the lethal blaze broke, Zehava Galon, chief honcho of the far-Left Meretz faction, posted on her Facebook page:

The murder of the infant in the Palestinian village, Duma was long “written on the wall”. It was sprayed with dozens of abusive slogans, which were given the “sanitized” description of “price tag”. Those who refuse our repeated calls to designate the “price tag” perpetrators “terrorist gangs”, and who restrict themselves to  muted rebukes when houses of prayer in Israel and the territories are burnt, should not be surprised when they woke up today to the burnt body of a baby.

Without a shred of evidence as to who set the home ablaze, she railed unperturbed:

“The perpetrators of this terror attack must be found and severely punished…together with those who operate the terror infrastructure,  as well as their spiritual mentors, the fanatical rabbis that incite and approve these deeds—in the name of god. To the leaders of the  Right: Can you really not see the direct line connecting the public disturbances and the disregard for the rule of law…and the backing you gave them; and the torching of the house and its inhabitants..”.

In a separate post, the same day, she spewed specific accusations:

The terrible hatred that caused the death of the Dawabsheh [family] has a name; those responsible have a name: Ministers, Knesset members, municipal rabbis, the [radical rightwing] Lehava organization, the followers of Kahane…The hate they spread is not a general hatred; it’s a hatred toward Arabs — whether they are Palestinian citizens of Israel or Palestinians living in the territories.”

 Clamor for collective condemnation

 The zeal for unsubstantiated condemnation was widely reflected in the mainstream media coverage. For example, on the very night of the arson attack, Ynetnews’s Ron Ben Yishai had already deciphered the crime.

In “How to stop Jewish jihad”, he determined–definitively

“…this is religious-messianic terrorism, committed by people who view themselves as acting according to God’s true will… this is Jewish jihadism, identical in every detail to Islamic jihadism”, adding ominously “They are no different than ISIS; there may only be a handful of these Jewish terrorists, but it is enough to divide Israeli society and lead to war with the Palestinians and…the Arab world”.

Not to be outdone, two days later ,Yediot Aharonot’s Sima Kadmon, in an astonishing piece entitled “We’re no better than our enemies”,  lamented:

“…let no one say that this is a lone incident…Jewish terrorists are just the messengers; there is a well-oiled system of incitement behind them… it’s time to tell the truth, the heartbreaking but inevitable one: After a generation of right-wing rule, we have developed a race…[n]ot proud, not generous, but definitely cruel…

Sanctimoniously, beating her breast with tormented self-guilt, she wailed:  

If we thought it couldn’t happen among us, that we’re not like that, that Jews don’t do such things, that only they [Arabs] can murder children, go into houses and shoot a baby…burn families, execute murderous terror – that’s it, it’s over. We are, we can and we do. Burn children alive, execute murderous, inhuman, incomprehensible terror…we’re no better than them.”

 Troubling use of “extraordinary” measures

 Evidently unnerved by the massive media outcry and shrieks of outrage from the opposition, coalition party members joined the chorus of condemnation, submitting to the prevailing assumption that “Jewish terror” was responsible for the Duma atrocity.

Accordingly, to demonstrate its resolve in apprehending the culprits, the government invoked extrajudicial powers – arrest without charge, detention without access to counsel, and the use of harsh physical methods in interrogations.

Justification for such “extraordinary” measures is usually invoked when contending with threats involving state/quasi-state backed foes, with massive budgets and international reach; not alleged dangers emanating from minuscule groups of youngsters in their teens (or barely out of them), marginal and marginalized not only in Israeli society at large, but in much of their closer societal environs as well, with no international reach and only the most meager of resources at their disposal.

Nevertheless, several youngsters were detained without charge, held incommunicado for extended periods,  and subjected to “robust” interrogations –with  little result. Most of the “suspects” were released, having been cleared of any involvement in the Duma fatalities.

After six months of investigation, it was announced that a confession had been obtained from one of the detainees, 21 year old Amiram Ben-Uliel, a married man with a (then) one year old daughter.

Disturbingly, however, not only was the confession reportedly   extracted from Ben-Uliel under duress, but it was wildly inconsistent with all eye-witness accounts given at the scene of the crime.

Concocted confession?

Thus, all witnesses reported that at least two assailants were involved. Ben-Uliel confessed to acting completely alone. Likewise, witnesses reported that the assailants arrived and left the village in two motor vehicles. In his confession, Ben-Uliel states he entered and exited the village on foot.

Ironically even members of the Dawabsheh family are highly skeptical as to the veracity of Ben-Uliel’s confession. In a July 2016 interview, a year after the lethal arson, Hussein Dawabsheh, grandfather of the infant who died in the blaze, expressed his skepticism at the professed confession.  Citing the account of his other grandson, five year old Ahmad, the sole survivor of the attack, he stated:

Ahmad said he saw a number of people. He could not say how many but he talked about several men who beat his father.”

Dawabsheh also wondered how only one man could carry out the attack:

I do not believe it. It needs a number of people—not one or two.  Who can enter the village and do this alone. People saw two cars leaving the village.

With considerable justification, he asked:

How can it be one man with two cars? It’s not logical.”

And, indeed, the confession, the methods by which it was obtained and the discrepancies with all the eye witness accounts raise deeply disturbing questions.

Stretching the bounds of credibility

For to give credence to the claim that Ben-Uliel is indeed guilty as charged, what do we necessarily have to believe?

We would have to believe that:  Ben-Uliel, a then-recently married man and father of an infant girl, without any Special Forces training;

(a)  had the “cojones” and skill, not only to walk over five kilometers—late at night—undetected and unarmed, to reach the village;

(b) he by-passed numerous, more-exposed, alternative targets on the outskirts of the village;

(c) he managed to infiltrate, again, undetected and unarmed, into the center of an unfriendly village;

(d) set one uninhabited building ablaze;

(e) then, still undetected, sprayed copious amounts of paint to write the incriminating Hebrew graffiti;

(f) then torched the Dawabsheh home; and

(g) finally, make a phantom-like escape, egressing the village without trace, never mind being apprehended, leaving no clue to indicate where he had vanished to—all this entirely on his own!!

After all, if Ben-Uliel was merely looking for a random Arab target, why would he not choose a house on the outskirts of the village rather than in the center, making escape easier? And why would he choose Duma –a village in, which the Dawabsheh clan’s homes were being regularly targeted anyway?  Perhaps under “enhanced interrogation”, he came up with a plausible answer?

“Ben-Uliel accused of trying to overthrow the state…”.

If this was not disconcerting enough, it was reported several weeks ago the Ben-Uliel’s trial, originally scheduled for September 26, 2016 –nine months after his alleged confession—was to be postponed. The reason for the delay was the resignation of the lawyers representing Ben-Uliel because of restrictions placed on them meeting with their client, which they claimed

“prevents Ben [U]liel from receiving the representation he wants and needs”.

The court ordered he be appointed a public defender, but he refused to cooperate with such counsel, demanding his previous legal team be reinstated. (Sadly I have no information on further developments.)

Significantly, the reasons given for the imposed restrictions were that Ben-Uliel was accused of being a member of a “terror organization”. As such he was designated a “terror suspect” and the restrictions applied to him, apply to all terror suspects. Of course it would be intriguing to learn which “terror organization” he is suspected of belonging to, which foreign powers it is backed by, what is the scope of its budget, its membership and its organizational infrastructure, as well as the resources it has at its disposal.

These are questions of substance not only because of the powers the state invoked to employ against him, but because, as was reported elsewhere,

The Shin Bet has also accused Ben-Uliel…of trying to overthrow the state.”

Gee, really??? Is it only me who finds that just a touch far-fetched…?

Dramatic double standards

Of course all this has been greeted with deafening silence by the usually vociferous chorus of left-leaning voices always eager to denounce any hint of excessive use of governmental power—such as those of previously cited Meretz leader Zehava Galon.

If additional evidence of barefaced double standards she and her like-minded minions employ was required, this was starkly illuminated by the flames of last week’s fires.

 Having denounced all and sundry with amazing alacrity following the Duma arson, she had the breathtaking gall to accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being responsible for inciting the fires that ripped through thousands of acres last week, because he “rushed” to mention that many of them had been started deliberately. Significantly Netanyahu only broached the topic two days after the fires began, and after this determination was made by the appropriate professional authorities!!

According to Galon:

There was a deliberate maneuver by the prime minister to distract the public from the submarine affair…The way he called the attacks arson and terror at such an early stage only led to more incidents of arson…”

Galon then endorsed the  scandalous accusation by “Peace Now” co-founder, Amiram Goldblum:

Netanyahu’s incitement intifada is raging across the country…It’s difficult not to see the connection between Netanyahu’s incitement following the arsons and the submarines scandal.”

What more is there to say?  Except perhaps to wonder whether President Rivlin might just reserve a little “shame” and “pain” (see introductory excerpt) over the blatant denial of due process to citizens of his state, the abuse of government power they appear to be subjected to—and the double-standards that are applied to them.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)

 

 

 

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