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Israel releases Jewish extremist Meir Ettinger from administrative detention

June 1, 2016 12:37 P.M. (Updated: June 2, 2016 2:07 P.M.)
Meir Ettinger, the head of a Jewish extremist group, stands at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth Illit on Aug. 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (AFP/Jack Guez, File)
(BETHLEHEM) -- A Jewish extremist arrested in the wake of a deadly arson attack that killed three members of the Palestinian Dawabsha family in the occupied West Bank last summer was released from administrative detention on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Israeli state prosecutors decided not to extend the administrative detention of Meir Ettinger -- Israeli security agency Shin Bet’s leading suspect for the case.

Two Israeli suspects were indicted for murder for the incident in January, five months after suspects belonging to a Jewish terror organization set the home of the Dawabsha family ablaze, killing 18-month-old Ali Saad immediately.

The infant’s parents, Riham and Saad, later died from severe burns, leaving 4-year-old Ahmad Dawabsha the only surviving member of the family.

Ettinger, 23, was detained in August among several suspected Israeli extremists in raids following mounting outrage and calls for a crackdown on Jewish extremism in the wake of the arson attack.

Because Israel’s administrative detainees -- for the vast majority of them Palestinians -- are held under secret information and evidence that cannot be accessed by the detainees or their lawyers, any connection between Ettinger and the Duma case has remained purely speculative.

However, Shin Bet said at the time of Ettinger’s arrest that he was detained "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organization," and suspected of "nationalist crimes," without accusing him of direct involvement in the attack in which the toddler died.

Ettinger was reportedly the brains behind a June 18 arson attack on a shrine in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and wrote a "manifesto" calling for the destruction of the modern state of Israel.

Ettinger’s release has been seen by many as emblematic of what activists and rights groups have called a “culture of impunity” for Israeli settlers and soldiers committing violent acts against Palestinians, while also providing a unique example of administrative detention being used against an Israeli.

He was among the first Jewish Israelis to be held in administrative detention by Israel.

The policy allows the Israeli army to hold prisoners indefinitely without charging them or allowing them to stand trial, as Israeli authorities can renew a prisoner’s detention every three to six months without reason.

The Israeli authorities’ decision not to conduct a transparent investigation into Ettinger’s suspected role in the case has also been seen as emblematic of the general lack of law enforcement in the occupied West Bank.

According to rights group Yesh Din, over 85 percent of investigations into violence committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians are closed without indictments and only 1.9 percent of complaints submitted by Palestinians against Israeli settler attacks result in a conviction.

Attacks by settlers are often carried out under the armed protection of Israeli forces who rarely make efforts to protect Palestinians from such attacks.

Over 500,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law, with recent announcements of settlement expansion provoking condemnation from the international community.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were a total of 221 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2015.
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