Activists from anti-assimilation group suspected in Jerusalem bilingual school arson

Shin Bet says that the suspects from the Lehava group, who range in age from 18-22, confessed to the attack against the Hebrew-Arabic school, but attorneys say confession coerced.

 A wall at a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem reads "Enough with assimilation." (photo credit: ISRAEL FIRE AND RESUCE SERVICES)
A wall at a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem reads "Enough with assimilation."
The names of the three suspects arrested Sunday for setting a classroom on fire in the capital’s Jewish-Arab Max Rayne Hand in Hand School last month, and spray-painting racist graffiti on its walls, were released by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on Thursday.
Suspects Yitzhak Gabai and brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twito are between the ages of 18 and 22 and live in the West Bank settlement of Betar Illit, where they belong to the Jewish extremist group Lehava, the Shin Bet said. The group follows the racist teachings of the late Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party was outlawed by Israel for inciting racism. Kahane was assassinated in New York in 1990.
The fire was set in a preschool classroom in the Pat neighborhood school on November 29, and Hebrew graffiti, including “Kahane was right,” “You can’t coexist with a cancer,” “Enough with assimilation,” and “Death to Arabs” were found on the school’s walls.
In a statement, the Shin Bet said the three targeted the nation’s largest integrated educational institution “because Jews and Arabs learn together at the school, and the goal was to put opposition to coexistence and assimilation in the public eye.”
Funded by an NGO that promotes Jewish and Arab coexistence, the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School serves more than 600 Arab and Jewish pupils from pre-k to 12th grade from throughout Jerusalem.
It is overseen by Jewish and Arab co-principals.
Lehava last made national headlines in August when its members attempted to disrupt the wedding of an Arab man to a Jewish woman who had converted to Islam.
The Shin Bet described the arson at the school as “the latest in a series of violent incidents involving Kahanist activists from Lehava.”
According to the three suspects’ attorneys, Itamar Ben- Gvir and Avihai Hajbi, their confessions were coerced under duress during interrogations that followed sleep deprivation and threats.
“We discovered that they had been seriously abused, sleep deprived, faced mental pressure, and one of the suspects said that, already on the first day, a Shin Bet investigator threatened to ‘kick his ass’ if he didn’t confess.”
Due to the alleged coercion, both attorneys have stated that their confessions are inadmissible.