Intelligence File: The Shin Bet, facing a perfect double standard

Supporters of Jewish terrorist suspects cry foul over alleged inhumane Shin Bet interrogations. Yet when the Left has opposed agency methods against Palestinians, the Right has accused it of treason.

IDF SOLDIERS stand guard next to a poster which reads in Hebrew, ‘A Jew doesn’t torture a Jew. Enough with the inquisition,’ at the entrance to Ariel (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF SOLDIERS stand guard next to a poster which reads in Hebrew, ‘A Jew doesn’t torture a Jew. Enough with the inquisition,’ at the entrance to Ariel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What a roller coaster ride the right-wing is having.
For 28-years, since the Landau Report, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has used and practiced the same investigation methods to glean information from suspects about future terrorist plans. These methods were used against Palestinians.
Human rights and left-wing organizations opposed the measures used, protested, appealed to the courts and led public campaigns against the Shin Bet. The Right supported the measures and the Shin Bet and accused the Left and human rights groups of treason and even collaboration with terrorists.
Now the Shin Bet is using exactly the same methods against right-wing suspects in terrorist acts and especially in the brutal murder of three members of the Dawabsha family in July 2015 in the West Bank village of Duma.
The Jewish terrorist group and its supporters – who this week during a wedding of one of their friends joyfully celebrated the murder – are young but lethal anarchists who despise any parental or educational authority, aspire to replace the State of Israel with Jewish theocracy and, above all, hate Arabs.
Though they are identified with what was known a few years ago as hilltop youth and are a small, marginalized and isolated group within the settler movement – probably consisting of 200 people – they are a direct product, a natural outgrowth, of the tolerance shown them by generations of mainstream leaders and leading rabbis of the settlers.
Their leader is considered to be Meir Ettinger, a grandson of the notorious racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was gunned down in New York City 25 years ago by a Palestinian Islamist. Ettinger is under administrative detention.
Another suspect who was recently released from jail is a grandson of a member of the Jewish terrorist underground which in the ’80s bombed Palestinian mayors and planned to bomb the mosques on Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) and a Palestinian school.
Now, their lawyers, who are partially financed by donations from right-wing American Jews and American evangelists, raise hell against the Shin Bet and claim that their clients were tortured during their investigations. They organized demonstrations in Jerusalem, including near the home of Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, who wears a kippa and is a product of the educational system of the national-religious movement, now mostly represented by the Bayit Yehudi party.
Uri Ariel, a cabinet minister from the party, even went an extra mile by calling to dismantle the department in the Shin Bet known to the public as the “Jewish department,” so called to distinguish it from other departments responsible for Israeli Arabs and the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. By the way, this department is in charge of counterterrorism and other acts of subversion against the state by Israeli Jews, regardless of their political affiliation.
In their desperation or wish to impress the general public and mobilize it, the activists of the hilltop youth staged a mock performance at the square of the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv, simulating an alleged Shin Bet interrogation. Their complaints are a perfect example of a double standard. One would ask them, Where have you been all these years when Palestinians suffered at the hands of the Shin Bet? This week the Shin Bet reported that “progress” was made in the Duma murder investigation, without revealing any further details. Courts have issued gag orders regarding the investigation. These orders create a ridiculous situation. The suspect’s name and other details, including that he has dual Israeli-American citizenship, have been published in the social media and on Wednesday on the New York-based Forward website, which also had interviewed his grandmother. Thus the gag orders deprive the Israeli media and public of their right to know the facts.
It is clear that the lawyers’ public contentions that their clients were tortured are a balloon test and prologue to the defense strategy they are going to use in the courts, once indictments are submitted. The lawyers and the supporters said that their clients were deprived of sleep, tied to the walls, sat on very small and uncomfortable stools and were shouted at.
Historically, the Shin Bet interrogation practices can be categorized by three periods.
The first is from 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights, and the government assigned the security service – then a small organization that mainly dealt with counterespionage – to tackle and prevent Palestinian terrorism.
This period, which lasted for 20 years, can be characterized as the era of torture and lies. The Shin Bet had neither legal reference nor restriction in conducting its interrogations. Ten of thousands of Palestinian suspects and terrorists were tortured in order to glean admission, and then the interrogators lied to courts and judges, arguing that the self-incrimination statements were legally obtained. The culture of torture and lies was authorized by the three heads of Shin Bet who served in that period – Yosef Harmelin, Avraham Ahituv and Avraham (Shalom) Ben-Dor.
In 1987, after two traumatic events that exposed the system, the government established an investigative commission led by Supreme Court judge Moshe Landau. This time, the Shin Bet people who testified didn’t lie and fully cooperated, admitting their past record of torture and lies.
Measuring the balance between the war against terrorism and the rule of law, the Landau Report recommended that the Shin Bet interrogators would be permitted to use “moderate physical and psychological pressure” in dramatic cases of a “ticking bomb,” when harsh measures are needed to get precise intelligence from suspects about immediate plans to carry out terrorist attacks.
The national unity government of the Likud and Labor parties accepted the Landau Commission’s recommendations, and the Shin Bet acted accordingly.
The second era began and lasted for 12 years. During this period the Shin Bet used torturing measures known as “shaking up” suspects – holding them by their shirt collars and fiercely moving their heads, chaining them to the wall or to a small stool, depriving them of sleep, and more.
The practice was eventually criticized by the Supreme Court in 1999, which ruled that these measures are tantamount to torture and illegal. The president of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, told the government that if it wished to allow the Shin Bet “special measures,” a law would be required to define what is permitted and what is not.
The head of Shin Bet at the time, Ami Ayalon, was in favor of such a law, but then-prime minister Ehud Barak opposed it, arguing that it would position Israel as the only Western democracy that has a “torture law.”
From 1999, a third era began, which continues to this day. At the beginning, the Shin Bet top echelon feared that its entire interrogation department would collapse and be ineffective. But it didn’t happen. The interrogations were longer and more challenging. The new circumstances forced the Shin Bet interrogators to be more creative, innovative and manipulative.
Sometimes they took more risks, and when in retrospect it was known that they performed in gray areas, in the twilight legal zones, they either were punished or cleared by in-house disciplinary tribunals.
Since 1999 the Shin Bet, as a rule, has not been using torture as it is defined by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture).
The convention defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.”
The Shin Bet on Thursday issued a statement denying that torture was used in the Duma murder investigation, saying that all claims in this regard against the organization and its employees are “lies and slander.”
In its statement the Shin Bet emphasized that there is no truth in arguments that suspects were subjected to sexual abuses, beatings or electrified.
It also stated that the suspects in Jewish terrorism are motivated by “an extreme and anti-Zionist ideology” with the aim to “topple the regime in Israel.”