Meir Ettinger attends a remand hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth..
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Recent media reports about the arrest of suspects in the arson and murder of the Palestinian family in Duma have reopened the debate over whether the Shin Bet is properly dealing with Jewish terrorist cells that operate in the territories. Left-wing leaders claim that not enough effort has been made in exposing Jewish terrorist cells, whereas right-wing activists point out that the Shin Bet is pursuing Jewish terrorists just to please the public. Last week, in his Maariv column, Ran Edelist lashed out against Shin Bet activity, and MK Bezalel Smotrich voiced similar feelings in a morning program on Reshet/Channel 2.
In his column, Edelist wrote that the only impetus the Shin Bet has had for dealing with Jewish terrorists is public pressure. “Jews will always be innocent because they are Jews,” Edelist wrote.
Smotrich, on the other hand, expressed intense anxiety over the results of the Shin Bet questioning of the Duma arson suspects. He seemed extremely worried that they might, God forbid, admit to committing a crime they did not commit due to the Shin Bet’s creative interrogation methods (which he knows nothing about, of course). In my opinion, inserting the Shin Bet into this ugly political debate is pathetic and unprofessional. The Shin Bet’s mission, in each and every operation it carries out, is to uncover the truth. Its goal is not to extract a confession or achieve a conviction, but to extract intel.
Shin Bet operators have no political agenda, and they certainly do not have any preconceived notions about Jews always being innocent and Arabs being guilty. All of its actions are carried out within the law and regulations of the State of Israel and at the highest professional level that has no parallel in the world. This simplistic debate does not represent the true situation and it ignores the main issue. We should not be focusing on the Shin Bet’s professionalism and capabilities, but on the future of the State of Israel and the stability of our government.
What exactly is terrorism, though? It is the use of violence against citizens as a way to achieve nationalistic, ideological or religious goals. Modern-day terrorism is being carried out by illegal organizations that use violent means to achieve their goals. Most terrorist attacks are aimed at innocent civilians and nonmilitary targets, which are generally considered soft targets and easier to hit. However, over the last decade, one specific terrorist group has expanded into a para-military organization that is functioning as a real military that is conquering territory and taking control over entire regions. This is how al-Qaida operated, and this is also how Boko Haram and ISIS are operating in Africa and Iraq/Syria, respectively.
Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of whether the perpetrator is Muslim, Jewish, Christian or Hindi. Terrorist leaders and ideologues despise lawful rule and do everything in their power to undermine the foundations of governments and create anarchy, which then provides a void they are more than happy to fill. To counter terrorist activity, governments must take unconventional steps. Most standard militaries are not equipped to deal with terrorist activity.
Many countries around the world have by now established special anti-terrorism forces, which carry out covert intelligence gathering.
Slowly, governments have begun to realize that terrorism cannot be fought with conventional militaries.
Over the years, the Shin Bet here in Israel has developed an extremely professional organization that succeeds in operating within the legal constraints throughout Judea, Samaria, Gaza and to some extent within minority population centers and radical communities.
IDF combat units have adapted their activity to the new reality within the Palestinian areas.
The key to successfully combating terrorist activity is combining high intelligence capabilities with a military court system that keeps all military activity in check. The situation within the Green Line is, however, quite different. Israeli citizens are subject to Israeli civilian law, which does not take into consideration the reality of what’s happening on the streets. In Israel proper, the Shin Bet and Israel Police operate under a completely different set of rules.
The Shin Bet deals with Jewish hilltop groups – radicalized youth who’ve withdrawn from society to live in isolated enclaves – in a very different manner than it treats Palestinian terrorist activity.
The hilltop communities are usually small and compartmentalized and they rarely have any contact with other similar gangs. In addition, they do not follow the lead of a specific individual.
Few of the terrorist attacks these Jewish youth carry out are planned over a long period and neither are they coordinated with others, and as a result, it’s very hard to gather intelligence about such acts.
The Shin Bet can currently map out most of the hilltop youth communities, as well as most of the leaders who engage in incitement against Palestinians.
But this is not enough. Israeli law does not define these youth as terrorism activists until they actually carry out a crime, and this makes it very difficult to arrest, interrogate or remove them from their communities. Due to a lack of evidence, in most cases, Israeli courts end up releasing the suspects or greatly lightening their sentences.
The result is an absurd situation in which not only is it incredibly difficult to gather serious intel about the activities of Jewish hilltop youth, but even when evidence has been found, courts rarely convict them. As a result, the security forces provide no deterrence to these outcast youth whatsoever. When a hilltop youth is brought in for questioning, he reveals nothing, expresses contempt for the law, and enjoys himself as he watches interrogators squirm as they try to find a lawful way to put him in jail.
Until the laws is amended to address this problem, the Shin Bet, IDF and Israel Police will remain ineffective when it comes to taking control of Jewish hilltop youth and putting a stop to their terrorist activity.The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.