Testimony by a senior Shin Bet agent referred to as “Tzuri” was recently taken apart in court, newly released closed-door transcripts obtained by The Jerusalem Post reveal.
In the proceeding, lawyer and right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir successfully undermined aspects of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) intelligence that Tzuri claimed justified the rare step of placing a Jewish right-wing activist in administrative detention.
The Lod District Court documents from the July 17 court decision and related hearings, which are only now revealing the dramatic developments, say on them “top secret.”
But an unusual subsequent order by the court has permitted their publication due to the important public interest nature of the issues at stake.
Israel says it uses administrative detention when it has information that a suspect is dangerous, but it cannot present all the evidence in standard open criminal court proceedings for fear of divulging intelligence sources.
Israel is criticized for using the practice, which includes legal proceedings but allows the prosecution to present secret evidence and does not give suspects all of the standard criminal protections.
On Sunday, under the pressure of a High Court of Justice petition, the Shin Bet announced that the activist at the heart of the hearings will be released from administrative detention around August 19.
Born in 1999 but with his name still under gag order, the activist was placed in administrative detention in June despite a Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court order to free him from the state’s custody after the state determined it could not indict him.
During the newly revealed Lod court hearing, Ben-Gvir questioned Tzuri about a range of issues, including contradictions in a legal opinion he submitted about various rightwing activists’ dangerousness, information he withheld from the court and whether the Shin Bet could claim the detainee was a danger to Israel’s foreign relations.
Regarding why a second, related, Jewish suspect was placed in administrative detention, Tzuri told the court that the Shin Bet had “highly reliable evidence” accumulated from a variety of sources that the suspect had been involved in the February 2015 arson attack on the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the capital’s Old City.
However, in multiple rounds of testimony, Ben-Gvir said Tzuri contradicted himself about the intelligence that was the basis for the administrative detention.
Tzuri at one point testified that “to the best of my memory, he was not put in administrative detention for that [the Dormition Abbey arson].”
But when asked at a later point if the second suspect was placed in administrative detention because of the Dormition Abbey arson, he said, “as a suspect among other things,” meaning that was one of the reasons.
Eventually, Tzuri admitted, “Now we understand that the suspicion regarding this issue was not correct.”
Under cross-examination, Tzuri tried to fix and clarify certain contradictions in his testimony.
The case provides a rare instance of Shin Bet intelligence that was the basis for administrative detention being taken apart in court and now revealed publicly.
Ben-Gvir also succeeded in getting the Shin Bet agent to admit that he had not revealed to the court that certain persons whom the main detainee was accused of physically attacking had criminal records and may have been violating IDF orders against them when the physical attack took place.
While Ben-Gvir said he did not justify the attack by the Jewish activist on the Palestinians or leftwing Jewish activists in question, he added that it was improper for the Shin Bet not to reveal to the court that the “victims” were not innocent bystanders.
The record also shows that Tzuri said that the main detainee was involved in arson attacks on vehicles and property near diplomatic properties belonging to Spain and the UN in order to interfere with Israel’s foreign relations.
In contrast, the records shows that Tzuri later admitted to Ben- Gvir that neither Spain nor the UN filed any complaints on the issue, and Ben-Gvir even points out that both Spain and the UN are against administrative detention of any kind.
Despite these problems with the Shin Bet’s intelligence and its reasoning for why the main activist was so dangerous that he need to be administratively detained, the Lod court in July extended the detention.
The court reasoned that additional explanations about the intelligence and the danger posed by the main activist, which Tzuri related to the judge outside of the presence of Ben-Gvir, was convincing.
Further, the court pointed out that the activist’s actions near Spain’s and the UN’s diplomatic properties were dangerous to Israel’s foreign relations even if no complaint was filed.
However, facing a petition to the High Court to overturn the Lod court decision and after the contradictions that Ben-Gvir exposed, the Shin Bet decided not to extend the detention beyond August 19.