Amiram ben Uliel's wife in an exclusive interview for Arutz Sheva. "Their goal was to find a settler to blame for the arson at Duma."
Amiram ben Uliel was convicted of arson in the Arab village of Duma in 2015. In this exclusive interview, his wife Orian describes the court system's disregard of any evidence in favor of her husband. She shares the moment when Amiram described how he broke down during interrogation under torture, and promises to be strong for their seven-year-old daughter, who is growing up without a father.
Orian Ben Uliel comes to the interview we arranged at the Honenu offices in Jerusalem dressed as a devout ultra-Orthodox woman, wrapped in a modest black shawl. Her eyes are brimming with tears. I ponder that apart from modesty, maybe the shawl also gives her a sense of security against the external reality and mental anguish she constantly experiences.
During the interview that unfolds the unimaginable story that has become her life, I bravely ask: "Have you ever thought of giving up Amiram? To divorce and move on with your life?"
"To abandon him?" She is taken aback by the question. "I am not leaving my husband. We are together in fire and water."
Does he ever raise this possibility?
"Absolutely not. We are together."
Seven Years Without Hugging His Daughter
Amiram ben Uliel was convicted of setting fire to a house in the Arab village of Duma, and murdering a father, mother and baby - Saad, Riham and Ali Dawabshe. Their four-year-old son, Ahmed, was seriously injured. Ben Uliel was sentenced to three life sentences. About a month ago, his appeal to the Israel Supreme Court was rejected and the sentence upheld.
Ben Uliel has been incarcerated under the harshest conditions of imprisonment in Israel. He is in solitary confinement. He is never allowed to socialize, and is even alone when exercising briefly in the yard. Despite being a mitzvah observant, he is not allowed to pray in the minyan, not even on Yom Kippur. Amiram is not allowed any furloughs and is not entitled to phone calls. He was recently permitted to study one hour a week with another prisoner.
Orian is allowed to visit Amiram once in a fortnight for 45 minutes and speak to him through a partition. His little daughter, Malchut Hadassah, who was less than a year old when her father was arrested, is now a second grader. Only recently, due to media pressure, was she allowed to cross the partition and sit close to her father. The Shabak, the Prison Authorities, finally admitted after six years that it was a mistake not to allow Amiram to hug his daughter. "She finally has a father: he can hug and kiss her, play with her. They play catch together in the two meters they have there," says Orian sadly.
Ben Uliel is not entitled to any conjugal visits with his wife. During the Corona epidemic, his family did not see him for months. "At the beginning of the epidemic, he was allowed to call and talk to us on the phone, but at some point, the Shabas stopped the phone calls. My daughter would wake up in the middle of the night and scream, 'Abba! What happened to Abba? ' I recorded her crying so they would understand how much she was suffering, but it didn't interest them. Even Yigal Amir has better conditions than Amiram. He is allowed conjugal visits, to socialize, to have phone privileges, open visits, and is no longer in isolation."
"The Arab security prisoners receive the best conditions in the Israeli prisons, while Amiram, whose confession would have been categorically thrown out in any other country, is deprived of every basic civil right. The indictment was so filled with contradictions that it should have been disqualified beyond any reasonable doubt.
Amiram is denied any basic civil rights. The judicial trial held in the District Court dragged on for years. He waited in jail to hear his fate, and it just didn't interest them.
The judge's daughter gave birth – and the hearing was postponed for a month. The prosecutor had a personal matter – and the hearings were postponed for another month. For them, Amiram was not a human being."
Amiram heard that his appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected from another prisoner. No one bothered to inform him of the verdict. Nor did they allow his family members to call him and inform him. "We asked for a phone call so that they we could inform him, and to this day, they have not confirmed their verdict"How Did Amiram React to the Supreme Court's Rejection of his Appeal?
"Despite his deep disappointment, Amiram did not allow himself to be destroyed. He told me: 'I told you that these judges are totally untrustworthy. God will get me out. Don't pin your hopes on them, don't believe in them.' He then strengthened me with stories of righteous people.
Amiram is held in sub-human conditions, but he clings to the Torah and his faith. Without these, he would have gone mad long ago. He just sits all day and studies Torah."
Amiram went through a period of intense anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress followed the severe torture that the Shabak inflicted on him. His family members asked that he be allowed to speak with a psychologist but the request was denied.
During the holidays, Amiram will not be entitled to holiday meals. He blows the shofar alone in his cell. He is allowed to have only two shirts and pants. During the holidays he is not permitted fresh clothing even though he does not do laundry.
What About Knesset Members and Members of the Public? Is There Anyone Helping Amiram With His Struggle?
"There were some Knesset members who tried to talk to the Shin Bet, but in general, people are silent. No one dares to say anything against the Shin Bet. I don't understand how Arab security prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands roam freely in the wing, have telephones, hold prayers together, and are allowed to have sheikhs visit them. They don't mess with the Arabs."
The Ben Uliel family does not intend to give up the struggle for justice. They are now planning to submit a request for an extended appeal hearing at the Supreme Court.
"Sometimes She Cries: Where is Abba?"How Do You Deal With Your Hardships
"I try to strengthen my faith. We don't understand Heaven's calculations. I believe that Hashem will turn everything around for the good. I go through very difficult periods. Sometimes I am filled with courage and faith, while at other times, I feel completely broken."
Sometimes she suffers from depression and anxiety attacks: "Before Amiram was arrested, I was an emotionally stable person. I never suffered from anxiety. When I had my first panic attack, I was terribly frightened. I didn't understand what was happening to me. I was sure I was going to die. My body started shaking. I went through periods of depression and hopelessness. I had difficulty functioning. A psychologist from the Merchav clinic helped me, and thank God, I now feel much better.
I try very hard to strengthen myself for my daughter's sake. She doesn't understand why she can't grow up with her father. She doesn't have brothers and sisters. She doesn't understand why she is different from everyone else. Sometimes she suddenly starts to cry: 'Where is Abba? I want Abba to be home!' And I have no way to answer her. I tell her about Yosef HaTzadik, who spent 12 years in prison, and about Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, the Chabad prisoner who was released from the American prison, and she asks to hear the stories over and over again."
During the holidays, Orian and Malchut stay with family and friends. "I've already gotten used to being alone with Malchut, but it's important to me that we are not alone for the holidays."
"It's important for me to be positive, and not to allow my daughter to see me during times of crisis. Every time I talk about courts or lawyers, she gets stressed. I had to tell her that the appeal was rejected when she saw me sobbing on the morning we received the news. Despite everything, she is a heroic child, and despite her suffering, she is a happy child." Malchut Hadassah studies at the Breslav Beit Ya'akov. "She gets a lot of support at school," says Orian. "When the principal heard our story, she was very shocked and is trying to help as much as possible."
Orian, who currently lives in Jerusalem, has a supportive group of friends and family. She is constantly busy with Amiram's case, meeting people of influence and consulting with professionals. "I try to avoid thinking about the future, and I believe that everything will turn out for the good. When I start thinking about what will happen to Malchut, I fall apart. I strengthen myself to believe that everything is for the best and that God will help, and then I manage to function better."What About Amiram's Parents?
"Amiram's parents are broken people. They had a very hard time accepting the Supreme Court's rejection of the appeal. His parents are quiet, introverted people who choose not to go to the media. That is their choice. I am in favor of them appealing to the media, because it is easiest for the state when the family sits quietly and lets injustices happen in the dark."
The Headstart Project was launched to finance the legal expenses, and received an enthusiastic response. "We raised 1,400,000 shekels - far beyond our expectations. It really warmed the heart," she says. Orian is overwhelmed by the sympathy and support of the people of Israel: "People constantly ask how they can help. They send gifts to Malchut for the holidays and communities send me packages. Their love and support give me strength. The people of Israel hold us together. Many people finish the recitation of seven books of Psalms for Amiram every day. It goes straight to the heart. It is a gift."
The Courts Ignored All Evidence Of Amiram's Innocence
Ben Uliel's conviction was based on his confession during weeks of relentless torture by the Shin Bet. The Supreme Court judges ruled that the confession obtained immediately after the torture was inadmissible, but the confession given about 36 hours later, while Ben Uliel was still under arrest and in the presence of his torturers, was admissible.
"The judges simply validated the Shin Bet to extract confessions under torture," says Orian. "He was so terrified of further torture, that of course he told them everything they wanted to hear, both in the interrogation rooms and when they took him to Duma to reconstruct the arson. How could the judges believe that after less than two days, when he was still in the hands of his torturers, he would give a truthful confession?"
Orian and Amiram ben Uliel met as two young hilltop youth and got married when Amiram was 19 and Orian was twenty. Their daughter was born a year later. At first they lived in the Ge'ulat Tzion outpost, but after the army destroyed their house several times, they had no money left to rebuild it, and they moved to makeshift living quarters inside a truck in the Adei Ad outpost.
"On the night of the arson, we went to bed late, at around one a.m," recalls Orian. "We usually slept very lightly because we lived at the edge of the outpost and were afraid of Arab attacks. In addition, Malchut Hadassah was only six months old, and I got up to nurse her several times during the night. My husband was next to me each of these times. At 4 a.m, I got up to drive friends to a nearby water spring, and left the baby with Amiram."
The indictment filed against Ben Uliel raises a myriad of questions and doubts, as does the crime scene reconstruction he was forced to enact under close Shabak monitoring.
According to Orian, "The indictment claims that Amiram left the house at 11:00 p.m. They ignored my testimony that we were together all night. In addition, the door of our truck was very noisy. There was no way he could leave without waking me and the baby."
In the crime scene reconstruction, Amiram described a journey in which he walked alone for over an hour to the village of Duma, managed to locate two houses that he identified as inhabited, found windows in them and threw Molotov cocktails inside, sprayed two different graffiti inscriptions on the wall, and returned home on foot without anyone noticing him.
This "confession" was clearly made under extreme duress since there was no evidence that supported it.
No forensic evidence was found for this trip. The bag that the indictment claims he had with him, containing the Molotov cocktails, lighter and matches, gloves and spray for spraying the addresses. - was never found. Amiram claimed that he burned the case. In the film of the reconstruction, a large team of police arrived to search for the remains of the burned bag and evidence that something had indeed burned in the area, but they found nothing. The graffiti messages supposedly spray-painted by Ben Uliel according to the indictment was deciphered by a graphologist on behalf of the defense. She determined that there were two different sets of handwriting, neither of which were Amiram handwriting. The two shoe prints found at the scene were also not Amiram's. Why Didn't They Give Credit to Your Testimony?
"Before Amiram confessed to the murder, he was detained for 17 days, without the right to see a lawyer or talk to family members. At first we didn't even know why he was arrested.
Itamar Ben G'vir, our lawyer at the time, told the Shin Bet, 'If Amiram is arrested on suspicion of arson in Duma - Orian wants to testify. She was with him the entire time.' But they wouldn't let me testify until they got the confession out of him through torture. They also told us that Amiram was not under investigation, meaning that he was not being tortured. Apparently, after they were unable to achieve the results they wanted, they decided to torture him. Only after they told us they were submitting a statement did Ben G'vir ask how they could file an indictment without obtaining my testimony. And so, to quickly fulfill the legal requirements, they collected my testimony. Two hours later, they had already filed a plaintiff's statement. They did not call any of the eyewitnesses to testify - the friends who saw me without my daughter. Nothing interested them. They claimed that he had already confessed and this contradicted any other findings."
Amiram Ben Uliel spent two nights of torture in the Shin Bet basements, two nights that came after many days of long interrogations, sleep deprivation, and disconnection from all contact with the outside world.
How Did the Shabak Torture Amiram?
"They tied him to a chair with his hands and feet tied together under the chair, and his head almost touching the floor. They beat him, spat on him, kicked him and screamed: 'You will talk!' That was the main torture which lasted for about six hours straight each time. They also stretched his arms back and positioned him in a way that made him repeatedly fall on his back. He knew he was in their hands and had no one to help. He told me he had no choice but to confess: 'I just wanted them to let me go,' he said. His lawyer, Ben Gvir, was only allowed to see him after he was questioned and confessed. He testified that Amiram told him in that meeting: 'It is better to die than to live.' He was completely broken, in body and soul."
Was Amiram In Any Way Involved in Violence Against Arabs?
"Absolutely not. During evacuations, I was much more of an activist than he was. When we were told to leave the house, he would always obey the instructions and leave, and I would stay and not leave." The indictment claims that a document called "Kingdom of Evil," which posits that the level of violence against Palestinians needs to be raised, is proof of the existence of a Jewish terrorist infrastructure. Consequently, finding a "settler" guilty of a crime against Arabs will vindicate their belief in a Jewish terrorist group. In truth, no evidence was ever found of the existence of such an organized infrastructure, nor was any connection ever made between Amiram Ben Uliel and that document. The Shin Bet justified their torture based on that document. .The Interrogators Brought Amiram to Reconstruct the Scene of the Crime
Orian believes that the State of Israel had an interest in accusing someone from the settlement movement of the murder of Arabs for political reasons. They wanted to show that settlers committed the arson, even though there are no facts linking them to this crime, so that they could create a fictitious entity called "Jewish terrorists."
"There were incidents of arson in Duma before and after that night which were never investigated and are strongly believed to be part on an ongoing clan war within the village. On the second anniversary of the murder of Riam Dawabshe, a relative of hers was murdered. There is a violent, ongoing family conflict in Duma that the authorities ignore and do not investigate."Why Do You Think That the State Has an Interest in Accusing Jews of Murder?
"Before the investigation of the murder, Boogi Ya'alon, then Israel's Defense Minister, went to the media and declared, 'We know who did it, they are Jews.' Netanyahu gave a speech at the UN and said, 'We know who did it, and we will give him three life sentences.' After such statements, they could not get out of this case without convicting a settler – any settler. After all, if politicians go to the media and make statements - the whole system is obliged to justify their statements.
"They accused my husband of the arson and ignored my testimony, my friends' testimony, and facts such as additional arsons in Duma and the testimonies of eyewitnesses who told a completely different story. They blamed Amiram for the arson because their interest was to find a Jew, any settler, and find him guilty, and my husband was the victim they found."
Which Eyewitnesses Told a Completely Different Story?
"Mohamed, the four-year-old boy who survived the fire, said that he saw the arsonists enter the house after the arson and pull his parents out. There were other eyewitnesses who testified that they saw the arsonists leaning over the parents, and eyewitnesses who chased the arsonists and saw them fleeing to the car at the scene.
Muhammad's grandparents said at first that it didn't make sense that Amiram was the one who set the fire. After a while, they turned around and claimed that they were convinced that it was him. Every finding that testified in Amiram's favor was ignored.
In the reconstruction of the scene of the crime, the investigators went ahead of him and instructed him where to go, what to say, and how to repeat everything they had forced him to confess during the interrogation. The camera focused on him so that the audience they wouldn't see the investigator walking in front of him and guiding him. He also made several mistakes and they corrected him. It's shocking how they swept the lies and injustices under the rug. Their job is ostensibly to find the truth. But in this case, their job was to make sure he corroborated the lies he had been forced to confess to.
Ben Uliel's appeal in the Supreme Court took place in the month of Adar. Judges Elron, Amit and Shochat sat in the panel. Judge Neil Handel, known for overturning judgments tainted by serious violations of human rights, was supposed to be on the panel, but was replaced. Orian believes that his replacement was no accident. "The three judges were of the same opinion. They were not interested in the truth. They wanted to validate the confession obtained through torture through legal quibbles.
Ben Uliel was represented by lawyers Avigdor Feldman and Yehoshua Reznik. "Both the public defender and the Committee Against Torture asked to join the discussion as friends of the court, but were denied. Even professors who had written studies on cases where defendants were coerced to confess were denied entry.
The Supreme Court understood and that this trial was problematic, and they wanted to keep it out of the public eye."
The future for Orian, Amiram and Malchut Hadassah does not currently seem promising. But none of them will give up their faith that gives them hope even in the face of a seemingly impossible struggle.
"God does not owe me anything," says Orian. "He gave me a husband, a daughter, and good health. I pray and beg God to make this situation better. I try not to complain and remember that there are people who suffer more. When you go through a crisis, it makes you sensitive to others, you become a different person. I also see good that grows from this, and Amiram also tries to be happy in prison, to dance and thank God, along with the prayers and the hope that soon we will come out of darkness into a great light."
The Shabas (Prison Authority) recently stated: "The Shabas allows worship and a religious lifestyle for every prisoner in its facilities in accordance with the provisions of the law and the relevant orders. The prisoner received at his request a kittel for prayers on the holidays, and in his cell there is a shofar that he uses in the month of Elul and on the holidays of Tishrei. We note that the requests of this prisoner (to be able to pray in a minyan) have been rejected more than once by different legal authorities."Related: English translation posted on Arutz7
Duma arson convict's wife in an exclusive interview: "Being strong for our daughter"