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Jewish extremist arrested in Dawabsha murders case to be released in two weeks

May 17, 2016 9:36 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2017 5:34 P.M.)
Meir Ettinger, the head of a Jewish extremist group, stands at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth Illit on August 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (AFP/Jack Guez/File)
By: Lily Leach

(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 is to be released from Israeli custody, it was revealed on Tuesday.

Israeli state prosecutors decided not to extend the administrative detention of Meir Ettinger -- Israeli security agency Shin Bet’s leading suspect for the case -- when his remand expires at the end of May, Israeli media reported.

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.

He was allegedly detained "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organization," Shin Bet said at the time. Police said he was suspected of "nationalist crimes," but did not accuse 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 coming release was 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 extremists to be held in administrative detention by Israel.

Israel’s widely-condemned policy of administrative detention is almost exclusively used against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, with numerous rights groups claiming it represents a grave violation of human rights and contravenes international law.

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.

“Administrative detention and all other administrative steps taken by Israeli law enforcement are anti democratic and against all human rights -- for Palestinian and Israeli suspects,” Gilad Grossman, spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, told Ma’an on Tuesday.

“If there is evidence (Ettinger) was involved with the Duma case or any other criminal act, charges should have been filed and the court allowed to rule.”

Because administrative detainees 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 is purely speculative, Grossman noted.

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

According to 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.

According to Grossman, the dearth of adequate policing by Israeli forces in the West Bank is largely due to lack of ability as well as unwillingness to address ideologically-motivated crimes against Palestinians.

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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