An Israeli court has convicted a Jewish settler guilty of racially motivated murder in a 2015 arson attack that killed a Palestinian couple and their baby in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli prosecutors said Amiram Ben-Uliel chose the Dawabsheh family home and another dwelling in Duma village, near Nablus, on the assumption they were inhabited and, before firebombing them, spray-painted “Revenge” and “Long Live King Messiah” on their walls.
The arson attack killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh. His mother, Riham, and father, Saad, later died of their wounds. Ali’s four-year-old brother Ahmad survived with burns on his body.
Ben-Uliel’s triple conviction on Monday by the Lod District Court carries a potential life sentence.
The 25-year-old was also found guilty of two counts of attempted murder and two of arson, but was acquitted of a charge of belonging to a “terrorist” organisation.
A second, underaged defendant in the case entered a plea deal last year in which murder charges against him were reduced to conspiracy charges.
Ben-Uliel said Israeli investigators forced him to make a false confession to the Duma attack.
“This trial won’t bring my family back,” Hussein Dawabsheh, Ali’s grandfather, said outside the courtroom in central Israel. “But I don’t want another family to go through the trauma that I have.”
According to the indictment, Ben-Uliel surveilled the village with the unnamed minor, and the two agreed to carry out an attack in Duma and another in Majdal, with the aim of killing Palestinians inside their homes.
The indictment went on to say that on July 31, 2015, Ben-Uliel went to meet the underaged defendant in a cave in the Jewish outpost of Yashuv Hadaat. The latter did not show up, and Ben-Uliel decided to proceed alone.
Ben-Uliel searched for a house in which there were indications of people living there. He first threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a house whose inhabitants were not at home.
He then proceeded to Saad and Riham’s house and threw the second burning Molotov cocktail through the bedroom window where the couple and their two children were sleeping, before escaping.
Ben-Uliel belonged to a movement known as the “hilltop youth”, a leaderless group of young Jewish settlers who set up unauthorised outposts, usually clusters of trailers, on West Bank hilltops – land the Palestinians want for their hoped-for state.
The attack was condemned across the Israeli political spectrum, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged “zero tolerance” in the fight to bring the assailants to justice.
Investigators placed several suspects under “administrative detention”, a measure typically reserved for Palestinians, that allows authorities to hold suspects for months without charge.
Critics, however, noted that other non-deadly attacks, such as firebombings that damaged mosques and churches, had gone unpunished for years.
And as the investigation into the Duma attack dragged on, Palestinians complained of a double-standard, where suspected Palestinians are quickly rounded up and prosecuted under a military legal system that gives them few rights while Jewish Israelis are protected by the country’s criminal laws.