The Shin Bet is responsible for probing and thwarting terrorism of any kind within Israel and on the country’s borders.
But does it investigate Palestinians suspected of terrorism and Jews suspected of terrorism equally?
Certainly, ever since the Jewish terrorist attack against Palestinians in Duma in 2015,
the similarities between how Palestinian and Jewish terrorists are treated by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) have been greater than before that time.
But even post-2015, the question of equal treatment is an impossible one to answer in a completely objective manner, for at least two reasons: 1) different contexts – politically, historically and legally; and 2) difference in quantity (read: there is far more Palestinian terrorism than Jewish terrorism).
The last month in Israel has been fueled with allegations by some on the Right that the Shin Bet is overly aggressive in its tactics for probing Jewish terrorism.
They have said that the Shin Bet should never prevent Jews, let alone Jewish minors, access to lawyers. They have added that questioning should be done the way the police do in standard cases, with no meticulously planned manipulations, mind games, psychological threats and physical discomforts.
Unlike in the Duma case, no one accused the Shin Bet this month of enhanced interrogation, also called moderate physical pressure.
Israel defines enhanced interrogation as more than slight discomfort (say, being handcuffed to a chair all day) but less than illegal torture – as a theoretical example, think of shaking someone as being allowed, but beating them to the point of breaking anything being prohibited.The Jerusalem Post
recently interviewed top former Shin Bet officials. Add to those recent interviews - past interviews, court documents and data, and a fairly clear picture emerges.
Former Shin Bet officials and top Justice Ministry officials have said that sometimes these tactics – whether blocking access to a lawyer or all the way to enhanced interrogation – are the only way to get hardened ideological terrorists, Jewish or Palestinian, to talk.
To solve a murder and also sometimes to prevent future attacks, these tactics need to be available, they say.
Regardless of whether the Shin Bet should use the above tactics on Jews, when it does, it is attacked politically by the Right, often by members of the Knesset and with intervention by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
When the Shin Bet arrests Jews, the arrests are usually in the news within hours or even minutes, and an immediate public campaign loudly demands their release before the agency has finished its first interrogation.
For these reasons, the pressure on the Shin Bet during interrogations of Jews is far more effective than the pressure on it for its interrogations of Palestinians.
When Palestinian terrorists are nabbed, usually no one knows except their immediate families, who have no idea where the terrorists were taken.
These Palestinians have no support from the Hebrew media or Israeli public officials, or if they do, it is often only weeks or months later and, even then, only from Israeli-Arab parties or human rights groups that have little power.
There are no statistics on how many Palestinians undergo full-fledged enhanced interrogation by the Shin Bet.
However, one can cite accusations from human rights groups, such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and some instances when the Shin Bet has publicly admitted to using enhanced interrogation, but said it did so within legal limits.
Thus, it is certainly possible that in tense periods – for example, during Operation Brother’s Keeper in 2014 – the Shin Bet may have used enhanced interrogation on somewhere between several and a couple dozen Palestinians.
Enhanced interrogations of Palestinian terrorists are believed to continue on a semi-regular basis up to the present day.
The Shin Bet has not used enhanced interrogation on Jews since the two Duma defendants in 2015, and it is unclear when there may have been other cases, though prior to 1999 there was much less scrutiny.
Administrative detention is another example where Palestinian terrorists being probed get a harsher deal than Jewish ones, and there is more to show for it in hard statistics.
At a “high” point in 2016 after Duma, there were three Jewish administrative detainees: Meir Ettinger, Evyatar Slonim and Mordechai Meir. Now there are zero. Reportedly, the last Jew administratively detained before them was Efraim Chanatzis in 2010. In 2016, around the same time as the “high” of three Jewish detainees, there were around 700 Palestinian detainees.
Those numbers have not dropped below a few hundred since the height of Oslo in the mid-1990s. During the First Intifada, from 1988 to 1990, as many as 10,000 were detained, some statistics show.
The three Jewish detainees were released within 10 months. In 2013, when the High Court of Justice ordered the extension of the detention of a Palestinian beyond three years, B’Tselem said that there were at least eight other Palestinian detainees being held for close to three years.
There has been no indication of there being fewer Palestinian detainees up to the present.
That is the difference in the political context, but the historical context is also different.
In 2012-2013, the number of vandalism “price-tag” attacks by Jews against Palestinians expanded exponentially, with some accusing Israel of dragging its feet in responding. By summer 2013, certain Jewish groups were declared as illegal, and the Shin Bet made internal policy changes to pursue “price-tag” suspects more aggressively.
Yet, according to sources, until he pressed for the power to declare certain Jewish groups as illegal in a broader fashion (essentially as terrorist groups), including changes to Knesset laws post-Duma in 2015, the Shin Bet did not have the same unambiguous authority. Blocking Jewish terrorist suspects’ access to lawyers, and for longer, using enhanced interrogation and using administrative detention, suddenly had much greater political backing.
That means that even if, post-2015, the Shin Bet now has authority to use harsher measures to interrogate and investigate in suspected Jewish terrorism cases, neither the system nor the individual agents involved have the same sustained culture or feel the same backing for using these measures as they do with Palestinian terrorists.
The legal context is also not the same.
In the recent major cases of Palestinians who came before the High Court of Justice or other courts to try to attack the Shin Bet’s enhanced interrogation of them, the courts stridently backed the agency.
Not so regarding the Shin Bet’s enhanced interrogation or use of aggressive tactics against Jewish terrorists.
Two court decisions this year disqualified as inadmissible all or part of confessions given by Jews accused of terrorism, because enhanced interrogation and other aggressive tactics were used, even as it is likely that those Jews will be convicted.
Sources said that because of the court decisions, the Shin Bet will likely need to reevaluate certain tactics for Jewish terrorists – translated: the Shin Bet will need to walk more carefully with Jewish terrorists going forward, even as there are no similar decisions regarding Palestinian terrorists.
THE PALESTINIAN side will likely say these differences prove discrimination against Palestinians, plain and simple. But that would ignore the major statistical differences between Jewish and Palestinian terrorism.
It is true that the Shin Bet’s statistics regarding Palestinian and Jewish terrorists measure things somewhat differently. Yet, they still present a clear picture in which fighting and probing Palestinian terrorism represents around 90% of their work, and the other around 10% includes a combination of Hezbollah, ISIS, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Israeli-Arab terrorism and also Jewish terrorism.
For example, Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman has told the Knesset that in 2018 the agency thwarted 480 Palestinian terrorist attacks, including 280 planned shootings, 101 car rammings/knife attacks, 76 with explosives, seven kidnappings and six intended suicide attacks.
From attacks that were not stopped, 10 Israelis were killed and 56 wounded – and 2018 was relatively low in terms of Palestinian terrorism.
In contrast, the Shin Bet told the Post that there were only 133 indictments against Jews in 2018, with 50 of them being nonphysical “price-tag” vandalism offenses. Many or nearly all of the other indictments were also for much less serious offenses than deadly terrorism. The clearest evidence of that is that Palestinian Aysha Rabi, killed on October 12, is the only Palestinian killed by suspected Jewish terrorism since 2015.
Statistically, Jewish terrorism is barely a footnote; and its primary threat, from the perspective of the Shin Bet, is more that incidents of Jewish terrorism have greater potential to inflame the region and cause a massive terrorist backlash.
Of course, the Palestinian side can argue that if Palestinians in the West Bank killed by the IDF, which can easily be dozens in a year, is included in the mix, the overall balance changes drastically.
However, whether those Palestinians are killed justifiably, in a firefight, or unjustifiably if a soldier gets to loose on the trigger, it has nothing to do with the Shin Bet or its probes.
To be clear: in its fight against terrorism of all kinds, the Shin Bet uses harsher tactics against Palestinians far more often than it does against Jews. And when it uses those tactics against Jews, the blowback it gets creates greater limitations.
Others would also admit that it takes the Shin Bet longer to solve Jewish terrorism cases because they have much greater penetration into Palestinian terrorism’s infrastructure.
But since Palestinian terrorism dwarfs Jewish terrorism in quantity, and since at least cases of killed Palestinians in recent years have all eventually been solved, it is hard to say whether the Shin Bet’s motto – that it goes after all terrorism equally – can be disproven.
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