Diplomacy & defense
The trial in one of the most high-profile recent cases of Jewish terrorism in Israel opened in the Lod District Court on Wednesday morning, bringing the episode to a stage that many doubted it would reach.
Eighteen-month-old Ali Dawabshe was killed in an arson attack on the Dawabshe family home in July 2015, with his parents, Saad and Reham Dawabshe, later succumbing to their wounds in hospital. The suspects in the murders, Amiram Ben-Uliel and a minor who cannot be named, are both settlers who lived in illegal outposts at the time of the attack.
On Wednesday, friends and relatives of both the victims and the accused arrived at the courthouse in order to show their support. Clashes broke out between the two families, according to local media, with tearful scenes playing out as the suspects filed into the courtroom.
During one confrontation outside the courtroom, Ben-Uliel's wife told members of the Dawabshe family "you've proved you're terrorists."
The Dawabshe family members were accompanied by demonstrators who held up posters with photos of the victims.
The investigation into the Duma arson attack appeared to stall for several months after the incident, with a number of known Jewish right-wing extremists put under administrative detention immediately after the attack without being charged or put on trial.
The original round of arrests did not, however, include either of the individuals who have ultimately been brought to trial for the Dawabshe murders.
Last December, the Shin Bet suddenly announced that a breakthrough in the investigation had been made. Details of who had been arrested and on what charges took time to filter out in Israel due to a sweeping gag order imposed on the case, although foreign media began publishing details shortly after the arrests.
The Shin Bet investigation into the arson attack took on broader dimensions, turning into a widespread examination of Jewish terrorism and uncovering a loose network of radical Jewish "hilltop youth" in the West Bank. The group, who dubbed themselves "HaMered" ("The Revolt"), and who were responsible for a number of similar "price tag" attacks both inside the West Bank and in Israel proper, has seen several members arrested over recent months.
The group's members were also allegedly behind a number of other arson attacks, details of which emerged in a string of indictments filed against "price tag" activists in January 2016.
The Shin Bet also announced that it was the intention of "The Revolt" to violently overthrow the Israeli government, in order to replace it with a Davidic monarchy, crowning a leader that would rule over a Jewish kingdom — harking back to the Biblical time when David ruled over the kingdom of Judah.
The investigation was not, however, without controversy. In addition to the use of administrative detention — criticized by many as a civil rights violation — suspects interrogated by the Shin Bet also alleged that they were tortured.
The allegations caused an outcry in Israel and prompted demonstrations by settlers outside the homes of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is widely seen as the settlers' main representative in the Israeli government.
The accusations provoked a rare public statement from the Shin Bet, denying that it had broken the law and saying that its interrogation methods had been authorized by the Attorney General at the time, Yehuda Weinstein.
The sole survivor of the attack on the Dawabshe family home, five-year-old Ahmed, remains in hospital recovering from severe burns.