Judea and Samaria police arrested a husband and wife from the Yitzhar settlement, near Nablus, on suspicion of taking part in the attempted torching of an Umm el-Fahm mosque in a “price tag” attack last month.
The suspects, Amichai Matuki, 37, and his wife, Nira, 33, were called for questioning at Ariel police headquarters on Wednesday afternoon.
They were placed under arrest and refused to cooperate or answer investigators during hours of questioning.
A Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge ordered the couple, who have five children, to be kept in custody, Nira until Friday and Amichai until Sunday. Two of their neighbors from Yitzhar were also arrested on Wednesday in the case.
Nira Matuki is not suspected of having an active role in the arson; she is accused of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Amichai Matuki faces the same charges, as well as the more serious crime of arson for nationalist reasons.
The main evidence presented in court Friday against the couple – who have no criminal record was that their Suzuki Baleno car was reportedly spotted at the crime scene.
In the courtroom on Thursday, their attorney, far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, told police investigator Sgt. Shabi Shmueli, “You know Yitzhar is an open village, like a kibbutz. People borrow each others’ cars.”
Shmueli answered, “I don’t know of a kibbutz called Yitzhar.”
Ben-Gvir accused police of having no evidence to back the arrests, adding that he believes they arrested the couple in order to “hold them as hostages” and exert pressure on them to talk, a claim Shmueli denied.
Ben-Gvir also accused police of threatening to take away the couple’s children, and told Shmueli, “You said you were polite in the questioning, does this include when you yelled at the wife?” “That was after I was polite”, Shmueli replied.
In his closing argument, Ben-Gvir said there are a lot of Suzuki Balenos in Israel and in Yitzhar, and that unless the police knows the particular license plate they have no case. He added that even if they do have the plate number, it doesn’t prove that someone else didn’t borrow the car.
Judge Avital Chen said that the burden of proof is on the suspects, that they have to prove that they are not linked to the attack, and ordered them kept in custody.
During the suspected “price tag” incident on April 18 in the Wadi Ara city, the front door of a mosque was torched and graffiti reading “Arabs out” was spray-painted on a wall of the building. The incident led to a protest in the village days later attended by more than a thousand people.
Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino on Thursday addressed the recent spate of “price tag” attacks within the Green Line, saying that police have stepped up their determination to make arrests and to stop these “explosive” attacks.
“The severity of nationalist crimes that have occurred recently is obvious and they can potentially have an explosive influence on the sensitive relations between the different populations in Israel,” Danino said.
“Therefore the Israel Police have stepped up our enforcement efforts and are determined to solve these crimes and make arrests. I am convinced there will be results in the near future,” he added.
The vandalizing of a mosque in Fureidis late Monday night led to condemnations from a series of Israeli leaders and was followed by a general strike called by locals.
The term “price tag” refers to acts of vandalism committed against Arabs in order to protest government actions.
The Samaria Regional Council’s Welfare Division has lodged a complaint with the Tel Aviv District Welfare office against police behavior both prior to and during the arrest.
On Thursday it charged that neither their office or representatives from the Yitzhar settlement were warned of the arrest in advance.
The two couples were arrested in front of their children and there was no plan in place for care the ten minors. It added that such actions violate the youth law which mandate that no minor should be left unattended.
Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said, “it’s inconceivable to abandon children without informing social services.”