The burnt car
The burnt carPolice photo

Three Jewish men who were arrested for allegedly setting a car on fire in the Arab town of Dahariya, near Hevron, may not face trial after police made the unusual decision to reverse their recommendation to prosecute.

The change of heart was “rare,” said attorneys with the Honenu legal rights group who are representing the three.

The young men were arrested over two weeks ago on suspicion of arson and vandalism, just hours after residents of Dahariya reported that a car had been burnt. Police said the suspects had been under observation for some time, and were suspected of involvement in other incidents of vandalism as well.

Several media outlets published the men’s names and pictures, along with pictures provided by police of the “suspicious items” found in their car at the time of the arrest: a toy gun, matches, a bottle of juice, a crowbar, gloves, a scarf, and several small stones.

A court hearing was held Tuesday in which police announced that the investigation had ended, and that enough evidence had been found to charge the suspects. A further hearing was set for Friday at which the suspects were to be indicted.

However, shortly before the planned hearing police told the suspects’ lawyers that they would not be seeking an indictment, but instead want to extend the men’s remand again and to continue the investigation.

Honenu attorneys noted that it is very unusual for police to backtrack on plans to indict suspects, but at the same time, to continue to detain them. If police find new evidence in a case, standard practice is to indict the suspect for the original charges and to add further charges at a later date, they explained.

“It’s hard to guess what police are trying to do,” a spokesman for Honenu said. “In any case, the behavior to this point has raised many questions about the police’s straight-forwardness. Could it be that someone here fired the arrow, and now is trying to draw the target around it?”

This is far from the first time that police have announced the arrest of Jewish suspects in crimes in Arab communities to the press, only to quietly release them or drop the charges a short time later. Children arrested for allegedly carrying out a serious arson attack were released to house arrest, as were young men accused of burning a car, two minors accused of setting fire to a mosque, and girls accused of vandalism.

“Price tag” crimes are mostly low-level vandalism against Arabs living under the Palestinian Authority or the IDF. They are often accompanied by graffiti including the words “price tag,” an apparent reference to the damages done being the “price” of terrorism targeting Jews or of the destruction of Jewish outposts in Judea and Samaria (Shomron).

While the incidents are widely linked to “settlers,” in fact, most suspects are not from the Judea and Samaria region.