Is the Shin Bet probe violating Jews’ rights or solving a new terror case?

Honenu, which represents many right-wing activists, has accused the Shin Bet and law enforcement of going on a wild goose chase to find some right-wing activists to arrest.

Price tag attack in Far'ata on December 20, 2019. (photo credit: FAR'ATA COUNCIL)
Price tag attack in Far'ata on December 20, 2019.
(photo credit: FAR'ATA COUNCIL)
We still know very little, but here is a picture of the latest conflict between the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and four right-wing activists dating back to January 1.
Some suspects were blocked from meeting with their lawyers for up to six days, some court statements say that interrogators violated detainees’ rights, including sleep deprivation, and there are debates about whether suspects could be interrogated this past Shabbat.
Most of the information is still under gag order.
Those above details are some of the small bits of information that have slowly crept out about a major Shin Bet investigation into four Jewish detainees for alleged terrorist or price-tag attacks against Arabs.
It is still unclear exactly what the four detainees are being investigated for.
But based on certain hints and past similar cases, the allegations are likely to be a spectrum of something between violent Jewish acts against Arabs to price tag graffiti crimes against Arabs.
Honenu, which represents many right-wing activists, has accused the Shin Bet and law enforcement of going on a wild goose chase to find some right-wing activists to arrest in order to show it is doing something about some recent price tag attacks on Arabs.
The legal aid group does not necessarily dispute that price-tag attacks have occurred as much as it disputes the agency has any evidence against the persons it arrested, as well as disputing the severity of the actions in question.
A statement from the Shin Bet this weekend said all four detainees’ rights are being preserved and, “claims from interested parties about violation of detainees’ rights are baseless and designed to present a false public impression in order to delegitimize the Shin Bet.”
The agency said all of its actions follow court-approved guidelines along with regular oversight from the state prosecution.
It said the Shin Bet “would continue to act to thwart terrorism as terrorism,” usually a code phrase to say it will stop Jewish terrorists the same as it stops Palestinian terrorists.
In the early stages of the case, nothing could be reported and none of the detainees were allowed to meet with their lawyers. Over six days, each detainee, starting with a minor, was eventually allowed to meet with their lawyers and complained of their rights being violated.
Usually, detainees must be allowed to meet with their lawyers before or shortly after their interrogations begin, but there are exceptions for security cases.
Honenu appealed the lack of meetings with the detainees and had some initial rejections, including from the Supreme Court. However, by January 8, all the detainees were meeting with their lawyers and more information started to emerge.
Regarding court involvement, the lower Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court initially ruled at the end of last week that interrogators had violated some of the detainees’ rights, including by using sleep deprivation.
However, the state appealed to the higher Lod District Court, which questioned the lower court’s ruling about violating rights.
Following the district court’s statements, the lower court refocused from criticizing interrogators for violating detainee rights to an order to those interrogators not to violate detainee rights going forward.
It was unclear from the multiple court decisions whether there is still a partial court determination against interrogators or whether that stain has been completely removed.
One comment made by the district court was that findings about violations by interrogators usually are only made by a court if a special unit of the Justice Ministry brings a case against an interrogator – but not at this early stage where the investigation has not even concluded.
Another allegation with some controversy is whether detainees were interrogated on Shabbat.
Generally, police do not interrogate suspects on Shabbat.
However, there are security exceptions, which the Shin Bet especially can take advantage of.
Honenu attacked the Lod District Court for failing to formally block the Shin Bet from Shabbat interrogations in this case.
The legal aid organization has both attacked the Shin Bet for blocking suspects for meeting with their lawyers and for lacking sufficient evidence to claim security crimes that could justify interrogation on Shabbat.
Ultimately, it appears that the Shin Bet did not interrogate the detainees on Shabbat, though the court had given it discretion over the issue.
It is unclear when the Shin Bet will lift the lid on this case, but in the meantime the 2015 Duma Jewish terrorism case is close to conclusion.
The Jewish terrorism case against a minor for allegedly killing Palestinian woman Aysha Rabi in October 2018 is ongoing, while various terror cases have been derailed, leaving a mixed record in the courts in recent years.
Even regarding the Duma and Rabi cases, the initial allegations were more severe or involved a larger number of suspects than what the final result was.
It remains to be seen where this case will fall on that spectrum of cases.