Israeli Suspects in Arson Murder of Arab Family Complain Interrogators are Torturing Them — Oh, Really?
[This article is based on the “Intelligence File” column by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, in The Jerusalem Post newspaper and website.]
What a roller-coaster ride Israel’s right wing is having.
Interrogation methods used by Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, for decades against Palestinian suspects are now being used on Jewish detainees.
The Jews, young men who have not been publicly named, are suspected of murdering three members of a Palestinian family, the Dawabshas, by setting fire to their house in the West Bank village of Duma this past July. The case has attracted worldwide attention, especially as it seemed for months that Israel was not doing everything possible to catch the murderers of an Arab family.
The Landau Commission, 28 years ago, gave Shin Bet a green light to exert “physical pressure” when questioning terrorism suspects. The Landau report strongly criticized the Shin Bet’s habit of lying in court about interrogations, but the report did not tell the agency to be kind and gentle.
These use of harsh methods on Palestinian detainees prompted strong, sincere condemnation by left-wing Israelis and human rights campaigners in Israel and abroad. There were court cases and public campaigns against Shin Bet.
Israel’s right-wing activists supported Shin Bet and its methods. They accused the Left of treason, and even of collaborating with terrorists.
Now the Shin Bet is using exactly the same methods against right-wing suspects in terrorist acts, notably the arson murder in Duma.
The Jewish terrorist group’s supporters include those seen worldwide in a video, last week, as some at a wedding celebrated the murder of the Dawabshas. A photo of the family was repeatedly stabbed, as part of a noisy dance.
The group and its supporters are not typical Orthodox Jews. They are young Israeli anarchists who despise any parental or educational authority, aspire to replace the State of Israel with a Jewish theocracy and, above all, hate Arabs.
They are a small, marginalized, and isolated group within the settler movement – probably consisting of 200 people. These violent men are identified with what was known a few years ago as “hilltop youth,” establishing their own encampments in the West Bank. They are a direct product, a natural outgrowth, of the tolerance shown them by generations of mainstream leaders and top rabbis among the settlers.
Their leader is considered to be Meir Ettinger, a grandson of the notorious racist Rabbi Meir Kahane who was gunned down in New York City 25 years ago by a Palestinian Islamist. Ettinger is under administrative detention.
Another suspect who was recently released from jail is a grandson of a member of the Jewish terrorist underground which in the 1980s bombed Palestinian mayors and planned to bomb the mosques on Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) and a Palestinian school.
Now their lawyers, who are partially financed by donations from right-wing American Jews and American evangelists, raise hell against Shin Bet and claim that their clients were tortured by interrogators.
The lawyers organized demonstrations in Jerusalem, including near the home of Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen. Cohen, perhaps ironically, wears a kippa and studied at National Religious Party schools that are now mostly represented by the Bayit Yehudi (Israel Home) party led by government minister Naftali Bennett.
Uri Ariel, a cabinet minister in that party, even went an extra mile by calling for abolition of the Shin Bet unit known to the public as the “Jewish Department,” so called to distinguish it from other departments responsible for Israeli Arabs and the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
By the way, this department is in charge of counterterrorism and other acts of subversion against the state by Israeli Jews, regardless of their political affiliation.
In their desperation or wish to impress the general public and mobilize it, the activists of the hilltop youth staged a mock performance in front of the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv, simulating an alleged Shin Bet interrogation. Their complaints are a perfect example of a double standard. One could ask them why they filed no complaints when Palestinians were being roughed up by Shin Bet.
In recent days Shin Bet reported that “progress” is being made in the Duma murder investigation, without revealing any further details. Courts have issued gag orders regarding the case.
These orders create a ridiculous situation. The main suspect’s name and other details, including that he has dual Israeli-American citizenship, have been published in the social media. New York-based Forward interviewed his grandmother. Thus the gag orders deprive the Israeli media and public of their right to know the facts.
It is clear that the lawyers’ public contentions that their clients were tortured are a balloon test and prologue to the defense strategy they are going to use in the courts, once indictments are submitted. The lawyers and the supporters said that their clients were deprived of sleep, tied to the walls, forced to sit on very small and uncomfortable stools and were shouted at.
Shin Bet on Thursday issued a statement denying that torture was used in the Duma murder investigation, saying that all claims in this regard against the organization and its employees are “lies and slander.”
In its statement, Shin Bet emphasized that there is no truth in arguments that suspects were subjected to sexual abuses, beatings or electrified. It also stated that the suspects in Jewish terrorism are motivated by “an extreme and anti-Zionist ideology” with the aim to “topple the regime in Israel.”