Duma arson gag order: Covering up a failure?

Israel Democracy Institute argues media gag order not meant to protect investigation, but rather to hide state from scrutiny over 'failure.'

Ari Yashar,

Site of Duma arson attack
Site of Duma arson attack
Credit: Flash 90

In recent days there have been reports about "great developments" in the investigation of the lethal arson attack on an Arab family in the village of Duma this July, but aside from loud headlines no actual facts have been presented due to an ongoing gag order - raising questions about the alleged "developments" in question.

The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) responded to the unusual media gag order on Tuesday morning, and raised the suspicion that the order is actually meant to cover up an abject failure on the part of the state in locating the actual perpetrators of the arson.

"Several amendments to the handling of cases of this sort should be conducted," said Dr. Tehila Schwartz Altshuler, head of IDI's Media Reform and Open Government projects. "A judge who gives an initial (gag) order for more than 24 hours is a digitally ignorant judge who doesn't understand the media environment. The evidence (for that) is in the myriad of reports on blogs and other sites, and the attempts to get around the order."

"What's more, it is not possible according to the existing law to issue a media gag order about information on security grounds, but rather only on grounds that it can harm an investigation, generally speaking."

"The suspicion that arises, at least according to different publications online, is that the system is trying to defend itself due to a failure," charged Schwartz Altshuler. "This is not a media gag order in order to protect an investigation, which apparently - and as cited this morning for example by police chief Bentzi Sau in the media - likely has already ended."

The talk of a "failure" being covered up refers to the fact that no suspects have yet been presented, despite repeated posturing by officials in the media saying that the state is onto the arsonists, and definitive claims that the arson was an act of "Jewish terrorism."

An example of the questionable management of the case was seen when Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) publicly announced in September that the identities of the arsonists were known to Israel.

However, just a month later in October, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu admitted the arsonists hadn't been found yet.

"If we find the murderers and if we have the proof you'll hear about it immediately, believe me," said Netanyahu at the time. "Sometimes it's hard, in this case, to apprehend Jewish terrorists."

In the same briefing Netanyahu did not address a question as to why three Jewish youths are still being held in administrative detention, even after it was clarified that they were not connected to the arson. The detainees being held without trial were transferred to solitary confinement, in what is said to be a breach of their administrative detention orders.

Some have speculated that the investigation is following the wrong lead, given reports and unusual circumstances at the scene of the crime that would indicate the arson may have been an inside job committed by feuding residents of the Arab village. Israel has reportedly left investigation of the Arab village to the Palestinian Authority (PA), instead chasing the "Jewish terrorism" angle based on Hebrew graffiti found at the site.




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