The Shin Bet announced on Wednesday that it had broken up a Jewish terrorist cell that carried out a series of seven attacks on Palestinians in the Gush Telmonim area of the northern West Bank.
According to a statement by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), six members of the cell were behind a series of terrorist and arson attacks on Palestinian homes in the second half of 2015.
“The intelligence we gathered around these attacks pointed to the existence of a Jewish terrorist organization in Nahliel, in western Binyamin,” the Shin Bet stated. It added that, following a “lengthy intelligence effort, the Shin Bet exposed the organization.”
The investigation began at the start of April, involving teams from the Shin Bet and the nationalist crimes division of the Judea and Samaria district police.
Suspects who were taken into custody “confessed to carrying out widespread terrorist activities, which included attempts to harm inhabited Palestinian homes, attacking minorities, arson, and vandalizing Palestinian vehicles,” the Shin Bet added. The suspects allegedly also hurled rocks from a passing vehicle at Palestinian cars.
Suspects were led to the scenes of their crimes and reenacted them for investigators, security forces said.
The Shin Bet described the organization as “extreme and violent, which systematically harmed Palestinians and their property, with full knowledge that human lives could be harmed, even after the result of the [fatal] arson attack on a home in Duma [in which Palestinian parents and their baby were murdered last year].” The Duma attack acted as an “inspiration,” the Shin Bet said.
It listed six suspects, two of them minors, and one of them, a 19-year-old IDF soldier, as forming the cell.
According to the investigation, the suspects were behind an attack on a farmer with sticks and tear gas last summer, the firebombing of a home in the village of Mazra Kabaliya at night, when family members were asleep inside, and the spray-painting of the words “death to Arabs” and “Jews wake up” on their walls.
“The firebomb miraculously bounced off the wall of the home, averting a major disaster,” the Shin Bet said.
In December, the suspects allegedly threw IDF gas grenades at night at a home in the village of Bitilu, to “avenge” the arrests of suspects for the Duma arson attack.
In that attack, “the father of the family woke up from the noise and felt difficulty breathing, as well as stinging eyes.
He immediately evacuated his wife and baby son from the home. His quick response and awareness prevented serious harm to the baby,” the Shin Bet said.
Several Palestinian cars were torched in recent years by the suspects, security forces added.
Central District prosecutors will, in the coming days, charge the suspects with terrorism offenses.
The Gush Telmonim cell joins the “rebellion” movement that was active in recent years, the Shin Bet said. Both acted out of an “extremist ideology and a readiness to harm Palestinians, to the point of murdering them.”
Intelligence shows a link between the Nahliel cell and members of the Samaria hilltop youth far-right activists, who are members of the “rebellion” movement, the Shin Bet added.
Some members of the cell received administrative banning orders before the investigation began. The Shin Bet said it had prevented severe acts of violence as part of a wider effort to thwart Jewish terrorism over the past year.
Honeinu blasted the Shin Bet and the state for what it called illegal and heavy-handed conduct in blocking some of the case’s suspects from meeting with lawyers for more than two weeks, and keeping others in full detention.
The NGO, which represents mostly right-wing activists, and the state prosecution have had several court fights over the state’s preventing the suspects meeting with lawyers and over extending the detention, most of which the state has won.
However, on Wednesday Honeinu said it beat the state in Lod District Court after the state appealed a Tuesday order from the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court to release two suspects the day after they were arrested. The court did not provide a transcript since aspects of the investigation are still under gag order.
Honeinu trumpeted the victory as a sign that the state’s aggressive policies during the interrogation have been unfounded, and that the two who were released after the court found their involvement in the suspected crimes was “marginal” were intentionally arrested only to intimidate them.
Honeinu complained that only five of 10 suspects have been released, and that five additional suspects in detention for around three weeks – including an IDF soldier – were prevented from meeting with their lawyers.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that in the current investigation, unlike the Duma murder investigation, no torture or “moderate physical pressure” was used.
No official announcement was made about why no such pressure was used in the current investigations.
However, there were indications that it related to the level of evidence investigators were able to obtain in the current investigation which they did not successfully obtain in the Duma investigation prior to using physical force.
Honeinu’s Eran Shoretz said that the state had crossed a line in this case by preventing Jews suspected of crimes that were not as dangerous as Duma and certainly not “ticking bombs” from meeting with their lawyers.
He cautioned that the state is making the definition of “security” detainees and the extreme measures that can be applied to them so broad that it will spin out of control.
The Post learned that the Justice Ministry does view the crimes of which the detainees are suspected of as security offenses, both because they involve allegations of arson, using gas grenades and violence, and because their acts could inflame a wave of further violence with the Palestinians.
Section 35 of the Criminal Procedure Law lists the conditions where the state may prevent suspects from meeting with lawyers for “security crimes.”
An order to extend the postponement of a prisoner’s right to meet with a lawyer beyond 10 days requires the signature of both the attorney-general and the president of the relevant district court. The two officials must first holding a hearing at which a senior police or Shin Bet official appears to justify the need to deny the client-lawyer meeting.
But Shoretz said that in the past this has only applied to Palestinian terrorists who were considered ticking bombs, and that it should not apply to Jews who are not ticking bombs.