INTO THE FRAY: Duma-one year (and three arson attacks) later
INTO THE FRAY: Duma-one year (and three arson attacks) later

“I saw Sa'ad and Reham burning on the ground. Next to them were TWO masked men, one beside each of them. They were dressed in jeans and black long-sleeved shirts…“Their faces were covered with a balaclava, with only the mouth and eyes visible. The street light  shone directly on them. I was horrified by what I saw. They saw me and I was frightened and ran back home. I told my brother Bishar to get help and returned to Sa'ad’s house where I no longer saw the TWO masked men – Eye-witness account of Duma arson attack by Ibrahim Dawabsheh, a relative of the victims, Amira Hass, Haaretz,  July 31, 2015.

According to the charge sheet, [on] the night of the attack on the Dawabsheh home, Ben-Uliel decided to proceed with the arson ALONE...He allegedly searched for a home that was inhabited and used his first firebomb on a two-storey building that turned out to be uninhabited. He then proce[e]ded to the Dawabshehs' home, prepared his firebomb in the yard and spray-painted graffiti on the walls, before throwing the firebomb into the house and fleeing on foot.Chaim Levinson and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Jan. 3, 2016.

 A year ago—almost to the day—on July 31, 2015, the entire country was horrified by reports of three members of the Dawabsheh family from the village of Duma being burnt to death in an arson attack on their home.  Graffiti, in Hebrew script painted on the walls of the burnt out residence, led to the precipitous conclusion that the act was committed by “Jewish terrorists”. Since that deplorable attack, at least three more houses of the Dawabsheh clan have been torched –as were two prior to it--without any hint of involvement of “Jewish extremists. 

But more on that later

Rabid reverse racism?

The ghastly tragedy ignited a flurry of self-righteous handwringing and sanctimonious self-recrimination across wide sections of Israeli society—and almost all sections of the mainstream media.  In a stroke, all external threats to the nation faded into near insignificance. Attention was no longer focused on the looming specter of a nuclear Iran, or the threat of radical Islam pressing against the country’s beleaguered frontiers. Suddenly the existential threat facing Israel was that of “Jewish terror”—the “menace” of a few dozen, marginalized, scraggly youth that inhabit the desolate windswept hilltops of Judea-Samaria.

Without a shred of evidence to corroborate their accusations, journalist after journalist seemed to compete in the levels of acrimony in which they attacked the assumed perpetrators. With unquestioning confidence--as unequivocal as it was unsubstantiated--regarding the collective identity of the perpetrators, and the collective guilt of Israeli society at large for the heinous nature of the act, they launched into a savage frenzy of self-flagellation.

Thus, barely two days after the arson attack, in an astounding piece of rabid reverse racism entitled “We're no better than our enemies”, Yediot Aharonot’s Sima Kadmon 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…”   

“Israelis identical with ISIS”

In a flash, all distinction between Israelis and ISIS was erased.

Think I am exaggerating? Think again! Here is a sampling of the” anguished” soul-searching that became the fashionable journalistic ritual in the mainstream media.

On the very night of the dreadful crime, Ynetnews’s Ron Ben Yishai had already solved the case. 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. In simpler words - this is Jewish jihadism, identical in every detail to Islamic jihadism”.

In her previously mentioned piece, Sima Kadmon concurred in “agonized” agreement: “It's over. 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 can murder children, go into houses and shoot a baby point blank, 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. And no, we're no better than them.”

And then there was the ever-egregious Gideon Levy, the every-day Judeophobe’s dream-come-true, who, a day after the tragedy, published in Haaretz a collective condemnation, headlined “All Israelis are guilty of setting a Palestinian family on fire”   According to Levy:  Israelis stab gay people and burn children. There isn’t a shred of slander, the slightest degree of exaggeration, in this dry description…”

It did not take long for this barrage to bear bitter fruit.  Panicked by the media assault, the political echelons and the security forces threw due process to the wind.

Little but accusations of thought-crimes”?

Within days, administrative arrests were made. Meir Ettinger, Eviatar Slonim, and Mordechai Meir were incarcerated without trial, reportedly on suspicion of involvement in the Duma arson.

One after the other, the detainees were eventually released- Meir in early January, Slonim early February, and Ettinger in June this year.
The arrests were accompanied by ominous warnings of the impending perils to the nation, entailed in the nefarious deeds, both past and planned, of the detainees, who were held incommunicado for extended periods, without any specific charges being brought against them.  Persistent rumors of the use of harsh interrogation techniques abounded—but no charges were ever brought.

One after the other, the detainees were eventually released- Meir in early January, Slonim early February, and Ettinger in June this year.

The case of Ettinger particularly reeks of needless mean-spiritedness.  In April, in a ruling upheld by the Supreme Court, he was denied—after months in detention—permission to attend the circumcision ceremony (brit mila) of his newly born son. The grounds for the denial were that he still remained “a security threat to the public”. Yet barely a month later, it was announced that he would be released—without charge!

In a disturbing review of the Ettinger episode, Tablet’s Liel Leibovitz  wrote : “Having met with government officials as well as friends and family members, and having extensively reviewed Ettinger’s public and private writing alike, I’ve found plenty that might upset people who do not share his politics but nothing to suggest that the mystically-minded smiling young man had any concrete involvement whatsoever in planning or carrying out any concrete attacks against anyone.

He added, damningly: “In fact, it is hard, reviewing the evidence, not to conclude that the charges against Ettinger amount to little else but accusations of thought-crimes”.

Deafening silence

The fate of the detainees—unsurprisingly but depressingly—has led to little or no outrage from the usually strident defenders of human rights.  Indeed, what is looking increasingly like draconian abuse of power, arbitrary violation of civil liberties and a troubling incarceration for little more than “thought crimes” has been greeted with deafening silence by the vociferous chorus of left-leaning voices, always eager to denounce any hint of excess use of governmental power.

Indeed, later developments are not more reassuring.

In early December 2015, the Israeli authorities detained 21 year old  Aviram Ben-Uliel, by administrative arrest. After keeping silent for almost 3 weeks, Ben-Uliel was, for reasons yet unclear, declared a “ticking time bomb” (i.e. a source of clear and present danger), and subjected to torture to extract a confession. On the basis of this confession, an indictment was filed (January 3, 2016) against him—and another unnamed minor, charged with aiding Ben-Uliel, but not of actually perpetrating the arson.

Based on the confession obtained under duress—which he subsequently retracted—the indictment against Ben-Uliel is troubling for a number of reasons. For as Chaim Levinson of Haaretz points out, it is significantly at odds with the eyewitness accounts of what took place on the night of the lethal arson.

Disturbing discrepancies  

All of these accounts refer to multiple assailants—at least two— as reflected in the opening excerpt from Ibrahim Dawabsheh, described as a “key witness” in the case. Yet in the confession-based indictment, Ben-Uliel is accused of acting alone!

Moreover, initial accounts mention the use of a motor vehicle—and some arrests were even made on the basis of those accounts – see “Jewish terror suspects indicted, but convictions, if any, will be long in the making” – Haaretz, January 4, 2016.

Accordingly, it is difficult to resist raising the troubling question that, if the initial determinations in this case (multiple perpetrators, involvement of a motor vehicle) have apparently proved “unfounded”, could it not be within the bounds of possibility that other aspects of the original assumptions might prove equally unfounded, including not only the number of assailants, and their mode of mobility, but also their identity, and even, heaven forfend... their ethnicity? 

In the past I have dealt extensively with the Duma arson (i.e. the July 2015 one, as opposed to all the other previous-and subsequent-ones). I warned against:

 (a) Drawing any equivalence between ideo-politically motivated crimes by Jewish extremists, and the Arab/Islamic terror Israel faces today—and hence between the measures that should be used to contend with them; and

(b) The almost Pavlovian-reflex to presume Jewish guilt in the lethal torching of the Dawabsheh home.

Jewish hate crimes and vandalism are NOT terrorism (8/6/2015); Trivializing ‘terror’(8/13/2015);  Why now? The hypocritical hullabaloo over Jewish ‘terror’      (8/20/2015); Duma, ‘dirty dancing’ & deeply disturbing detention   (12/31/2015);  Presumption of guilt(1/7/2016);  Jewish ‘terror’ – A guide for the perplexed(1/14/2016).

Drawing distinctions

I have little doubt that the arguments I raised then are still valid today. Accordingly, I would urge readers to review my analyses as to why it is imperative to draw a qualitative distinction between Arab terrorism and the terrorist organizations that perpetrate it, on the one hand, and the groups of Jewish radical religious renegades, on the other – as well as the detrimental consequences such misplaced parallels entail for Israel.

Likewise, I argued that state use of draconian extra-judicial powers – such as administrative detention without charge, holding detainees incommunicado for months and the denial of “due process” – may well be justified when dealing with threats involving state/quasi-state/state-backed foes, with massive budgets and international reach.

This, however, is certainly not the case when the alleged menace emanates 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 I do not know if Ben-Uliel is guilty as charged. But one thing is certain: he is no Bin Laden, or Hassan Nasrallah/
and only the most meager of resources at their disposal.

Of course I do not know if Ben-Uliel is guilty as charged. But one thing is certain: he is no Bin Laden, or Hassan Nasrallah—and the measures needed to contend with him, or any group he may be affiliated with, are--or should be--very different from those needed to contend with the likes of Bin Laden/Nasrallah, their organizations or their minions.

What you need to believe

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

Well, you would have to believe that:  Ben Uliel, a recently married man and the father of an infant girl, without any special forces training; (a)  had the “cojones” and the skill, not only to walk over five kilometers --late at night—unnoticed, to reach the village; (b) but that he by-passed numerous, more-exposed, alternative targets on the outskirts of the village; (d) that he managed to infiltrate, undetected and unarmed, into the center of a unfriendly village; (e) set one uninhabited building ablaze; (f) then, still undetected, sprayed copious amounts of paint to write the incriminating Hebrew graffiti; (g) then torched the Dawabsheh home; and (h) finally,  make a phantom-like escape, egressing the village without trace, never mind being apprehended, leaving no trail or clue to indicate where he had vanished to—all this entirely on his own!!

Is that really credible??

But that’s not 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 one 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?

These are troubling questions. One year—and three unsolved arson attacks—later, they are questions that must be faced.

Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (