State still has no chief investigator of alleged Shin Bet violations

Several months ago, the Justice Ministry assured The Jerusalem Post that a new chief was about to be appointed.

Actors demonstrate the Israeli Shin Bet torture method known as "Banana b'kiseh" (photo credit: DAVID SILVERMAN / REUTERS)
Actors demonstrate the Israeli Shin Bet torture method known as "Banana b'kiseh"
For over six months, the state has had no permanent chief investigator of the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) for alleged violations of detainee rights and at least as of Tuesday there is no end in sight.
One day after the state prosecution was dealt a major blow when it was forced to withdraw one of its three flagship Jewish terrorism cases because a confession obtained by authorities was declared to be coerced, the Justice Ministry could not give a date when a new permanent chief investigator would be appointed.
The ministry did point out that there is an acting chief in place until that point.
In a dramatic reversal, the state prosecution on Monday had dropped its cases against Yinon Reuveni and a Jewish minor for arson of the Dormition Abbey in February 2015.
The second defendant’s name is under gag order as he was a minor at the time of the alleged incident.
The stunning reversal comes after a blockbuster ruling by the Lod District Court in January nixing the confession of the Jewish minor for having perpetrated the Dormition Abbey arson on the grounds that the confession was coerced.
Normally, such a big case cratering would cause tremendous upheaval regarding how the Shin Bet probes Jewish terrorism cases in the future since there has been significant public debate about whether the agency’s recent tougher tactics go too far.
Certainly, much of the review of what went wrong and what should be done differently going forward will involve the police, who ran aspects of the investigation, including the operation of the undercover agent posing as a prisoner in Akko who helped get the minor-defendant to confess.
But Jewish terrorism cases all start with the Shin Bet and the cases do not even get to the police until the agency hands them over.
Until September 2018, the process of learning lessons, revising interrogation procedures and possibly disciplining some interrogators would have been led by Jana Modgavrishvili, who led unit investigating the Shin Bet.
However, despite Modgavrishvili giving the Justice Ministry a full-year notice about her intent to step down this past September, no permanent replacement was appointed and there is none in sight.
While an acting chief ensures that certain ongoing work is maintained, it is questionable whether such a temporary official could have a significant impact on the fallout and future changes which might be required following the Dormition Abbey case.
Several months ago, the Justice Ministry assured The Jerusalem Post that a new chief was about to be appointed. But it turns out that the appointment never panned out and that there are no clear plans for how to move forward.
How then will the state address the failures in the investigatory process which led to the cases against those suspected of arson against the Dormition Abbey falling apart in spectacular fashion?
A ministry spokeswoman said that any Shin Bet issues could be addressed by senior state prosecution officials and that in any case, the failures related more to the police.
However, regardless of the balance of involvement between the Shin Bet and the police in investigating the case, the agency was extensively involved and always has the lead at the start of cases probing terrorism.
In January, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asked the units responsible for probing police and Shin Bet misconduct to investigate their conduct toward the Jewish Dormition Abbey defendants.
At the time, when the Post confronted a spokesman for Erdan if he knew that no such probe could be conducted because the unit for probing the Shin Bet was headless, the spokesman appeared surprised.
Questioned on Tuesday about whether Erdan would publicly call for the Justice Ministry to finally appoint a new chief investigator, he said he was not sure and had not commented further at press time.
Modgavrishvili was the first head of the unit within the Justice Ministry, which was moved out of the Shin Bet for the first time in 2014 despite opposition by the security agency.
With six months without a chief investigator, something which would be unheard of for any other investigative unit, it no longer seems to matter as much whether opposition to appointing a new chief or general indifference is responsible.
Even during Modgavrishvili’s tenure, the unit itself lacked sufficient manpower to vet its cases without falling sometimes two to three years behind.
Primarily the unit investigates complaints by Palestinian suspects alleging Shin Bet torture, but with a rise in Jewish terrorism indictments in recent years, it has seen an increasing number of complaints from Jewish detainees as well.