Unraveling the Duma circus

What's the point of having a trial if we all know who's guilty anyway?

Tags: Duma Arson
Ari Soffer

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

With indictments finally filed against two suspects in the deadly Duma arson back in July, a new chapter in this sorry saga has now begun. No doubt in the days, weeks and months to come we will be treated to many more headlines, many more accusations, and many more carefully-engineered and choreographed press conferences, statements and anonymous leaks from both the Shin Bet and the suspects' media-savvy defense team.

But what's the point of a trial when we all already know who's guilty anyway? For this, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality: The Duma tragedy - the murder of two parents and their baby boy, a crime, an apparent act of terror - has become a circus, and everyone is in on the act.

So who is guilty? Who murdered Saad, Reham and Ali Dawabshe, and left young Ahmed with life-changing injuries?

Why, everyone knows the answer to that question! Only... the answer depends on who you ask.

So let's explore the case, ladies and gentlemen. Not in a courtroom, but right here, on these very pages.

Who's guilty? The Left know

For many - broadly-speaking those aligned with the Israeli or wider Jewish Left - the answer is obvious: Amiram Ben-Uliel and his 17-year-old alleged accomplice did it. We know this for a fact, because that's what the media have been saying, and because they look the part, right? (Because all shaggy-haired, bearded "settlers" do this kind of thing all the time.) Their protestations of innocence and the principle of innocent until proven guilty are totally irrelevant here. We don't need a trial because the media have already decided, and because any other alternative will make all the melodramatic bellowing and self-flagellation feel retroactively absurd (never mind that it is so regardless of their guilt or innocence).

(An important note: this hardline approach applies only to Jewish terror suspects, not to Arab ones.)

They did it - those sidelocked, bearded, kippa-wearing fanatics. No, not just Ben-Uliel, but the hilltop youth as well - all of them. Didn't you see that wedding video? A few dozen disgusting hooligans obviously represent the entire Hilltop Youth movement. This, too, is known with great certainly by the keyboard experts, pundits and politicians, most of whom have never set foot in Judea and Samaria, and even fewer of whom have ventured beyond the genteel suburbs of Gush Etzion, Ariel or Maalei Adumim to the "outposts" they claim to know so much about.

In fact, religious-Zionism as a whole is to blame. Yes, all of us kippa-wearing, bearded (or not) "zealots." You know, the ones who disproportionately send their sons to serve in front-line and elite IDF combat units, and who sacrifice their lives willingly for the sake of all Jews, Left or Right. Never mind that the extremist collective (because it is clearly not a formal organization) being investigated views the religious-Zionist leadership as an enemy even greater than the secular elite. Never mind that religious-Zionist leaders spoke out uniformly, strongly and unequivocally in condemnation of the Duma attack, and have been doing so ever since (even the "extremist" Rabbi Ginsburg, who has become the focus of some clueless opeds painting him as the villain in a story he has nothing to do with.)

Secretly, these accusers are thankful in a way. Their pent-up, irrational desire for Jewish guilt has finally found a semi-legitimate outlet, in the form of breast-beating opeds and hyperbolic statements to the press, everyone abandoning his or her inhibitions and competing to more closely resemble the likes of Gidon Levy or Amira Hass, whose repugnant assertions regarding the "collective guilt" of Israeli society would on any other day be angrily, and rightly, rejected.

In fact, it's not just the suspects, or the Hilltop Youth, or the religious-Zionists - but the entire Jewish people. We are all guilty. Collective responsibility. "My people have chosen terror," as we were informed (or actually, the international media was informed) by our current aspiring elder-statesman President Reuven Rivlin. All of us chose terror - even the 99.9% who utterly repudiated it.

(An important note: collective responsibility can only be legitimately applied to and demanded of Jews, not Arabs.)

And of course, it goes without saying that the Shin Bet is totally innocent of any wrongdoing with or without an investigation into their "extraordinary" interrogation techniques and mass-arrests - including of young men who even they admit had absolutely nothing to do with Duma or any other crimes. If we're all guilty then nobody is innocent anyway.

...Actually, the Right know better

But there are others who know with just as much certainty - based on just as much evidence - that the truth could not be more different.

I am speaking, in a broad sense, of the judges, jury and executioners on the Right, who know for a fact - for a fact - that the Duma arson was the result of an ongoing feud between two Arab clans in the village. They know because... they know. Because of some strange circumstantial evidence surrounding the case (the kind of circumstantial evidence which would be utterly inadmissible if used against the Jewish suspects, naturally).

Keyboard experts who have never stepped foot into a Palestinian village - Duma or otherwise - have suddenly become well-versed in the logistical, geographic and demographic details of the attack in question. Why would Jewish extremists go so far into the village (how far, they can't say)? Aren't the accused afraid of Arabs? (No.) Are they crazy? (Well, not crazy, but at least some of them are fanatical enough to wave pictures of a dead baby at a wedding.)

These experts know for a fact that it was Arabs who did it, and then went on to frame Jews by spray-painting a Hebrew slogan nearby. Or maybe the Shin Bet did it. After all, the Shin Bet set up the entire "wedding of hate," right? All the people doing anything remotely incriminating were Shin Bet agents - we know this, because several circular emails (written by... who cares?) have told us so. And remember Avishai Raviv? Maybe he did it.

The confessions of Ben-Uliel and his accomplice are worthless because they were extracted via torture. This, too, we know, courtesy of such objective sources as... the defense team, whose entire job it is to get the charges dismissed. They were beaten, tortured, raped - you name it - until they said whatever they needed to say. And there is no need for an investigation (unless it corroborates those accusations) because everyone knows it's true. Never mind that Ben-Uliel allegedly revealed and reenacted details of the attack in his confession that only the culprit could have known. If those allegations are true, the Shin Bet just set him up.

Most importantly, these experts know this is so because they need to believe it is so. Because Jews simply couldn't have committed such an act of terror. Because Jews are beings of such supernatural restraint that even decades of terror, brutalization, forced expulsions and some extremist teachings could not possibly radicalize a few bad apples. Because Mohammed Abu Khdeir never happened, right?

Now, back to reality

What is the reason for this absurd dichotomy? For the circus of collective guilt and hysteria on the Left, and of self-delusion and conspiracy theories on the Right?

The answer is just one word: insecurity. The insecurity born of two millennia of exile is now amplified in our Jewish state, to the point that what should have been a professional, objective police investigation immediately morphed into a hopelessly politicized platform for all the emotional baggage of the Left and Right to be unloaded.

Underlying the reactions of both Left and Right are one or both of two fears. The first is that wretched psychological relic of the ghetto: "What will the world think?" As if our actions as a people must always be condemned to be judged against the yardstick of what others think.

The second fear is related, but more internal: What happens to our perceived moral superiority? It's the Palestinians who commit acts of terror, not us, and an attack by Jewish terrorists would ruin this narrative which so many lean on as a psychological, intellectual and emotional crutch. Are we now no better than them?

(There is a third motivation, for those few poor Jewish souls who actually revel in guilt, those for whom Jewish guilt and notions of "we're just as bad as/worse than them" is political currency. But that is a different story altogether.)

The response to either fear must either be to "prove" - to "the nations of the world" and/or to ourselves - that we are still good people, still better than the Palestinians. This can either be achieved by denying everything, or by preemptively confessing to every possible accusation (fair or unfair) and begging for forgiveness.

And yet, this is not a sane or rational response.

Could it have been Jewish extremists? Of course - we know there are fanatics capable of this. Meir Ettinger and others have even circulated booklets instructing how to conduct attacks in order to collapse the government and help usher in the crowning of a "king."

Could it have been an Arab feud dressed up to look like a "price tag action"? Anything is possible, and that has actually happened in a minority of more minor cases, but it's obvious that this is not the most likely option, and investigating the former avenue first is hardly proof of some kind of anti-Jewish bias.

Could the Shin Bet, Attorney General and others have overstepped their authority and even broken the law in approving and carrying out abusive interrogation techniques, and in illegally detaining completely innocent people? Very possibly, particularly given the hysterical, hyper-politicized context within which the criminal investigation was conducted and subsequently became tainted with. An independent investigation into claims of torture and illegal detention must be launched as soon as possible - and carried out as apolitically and professionally as possible. No one should be above the law.

So what about "the world?" What will they say if it was indeed Jewish extremists? The answer here should be first and foremost: why should we care? Israel is a rule-of-law country, and our priority is to make sure that terrorists and criminals of all persuasions are brought to justice. Period. Criticisms from outside are totally irrelevant to this task.

But secondly, when facing the accusations of those who would paint Israel as "racist" no matter what (buoyed by foolish statements from the likes of Rivlin and co., of course), our response should be one of confidence, not insecurity. A single act of terror defines Israel as a racist country? Really? So what of the daily acts of anti-Jewish terror by Palestinians? What does that make their society?

Every single nation or community in the world has its extremists: from White Supremacists and Christian fundamentalists, to extreme Hindu nationalists, even Buddhist extremists in Burma - and of course Muslim extremists, who commit daily atrocities throughout the globe. But societies must not be judged by the actions of a few extremists but by the reaction of the wider society to them. In Israel, the reaction, from Left to Right (beyond the very furthest fringes), has been nonstop condemnation. In Palestinian society, the response - whether from the "moderate" Fatah or the "extremist" Hamas and Islamic Jihad - has been praise, glorification, encouragement and incitement of anti-Semitic terrorism. We condemn it, while they revel in it - that speaks volumes.

We need not "prove" our moral worthiness because the facts speak for ourselves. Those who would judge the people of Israel differently to any other nation should be dismissed out of hand as the bigots they are. We certainly don't need to prove ourselves to them (nor is there any point in doing so).

But if we wish to end this phenomenon of double-standards by others, then we must stop applying them to ourselves as well.

Israel's first prime minister David Ben Gurion famously said: "We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew." He could equally have talked of murderers and other criminals, which exist in every normal society. The main thing is that the Hebrew-speaking police, judges and legislators of the law are there to ensure the criminals don't get away with it - even prime ministers and presidents.

The Jewish people has returned to its ancestral homeland, Eretz Israel, to rebuild our country and civilization. That is a glorious project, but we must accept it warts and all. We are not here to build a society of angels - that is impossible - but one which collectively strives to do the right thing, which, regardless of the endless accusations spewed against us, is precisely what our boisterous political culture spends every waking moment considering.

This, then, is the lens through which the Duma case must be viewed. To ensure that justice is done, without political bias or hysteria. To hold fast to the values of innocent until proven guilty - but to accept that the security services and justice system which work day and night to keep us safe must be allowed to work and be trusted, though with a critical eye, to get the job done. To hold them accountable if there are suspicions of wrongdoing. To neither throw our lot in with anarchists nor smear entire communities due to political biases. To realize that this is what being an independent, responsible, sovereign nation is all about.

And to get a grip.