Eight months ago, when I was in court for the trial of one of my clients, I ran into the murderer of the late Shalom Sharki, who was all smiles, conferring with his attorney. It was very shortly after the murder, and when I asked police why they were so quick to allow the meeting between the terrorist and his lawyer—who advised him to claim that he committed the crime was by accident—the police responded, “What can you do, we live in a democracy.”
I recalled that event in recent days, while running from one judge to another, demanding to meet with my client, a young man who had been kept in the Shabak’s cellars for many days—and who, according to his wife, was injured during his arrest. The courts cooperated with the Shabak, extending my client’s detention and, time and again, imposing the ban on letting him meet an attorney. No one mentioned the word Democracy.
Each week when we deal with Arab terrorism and the conflict of security needs versus civil rights, we inevitably hear the media, human rights organizations and “sensitive” politicians protesting that a youth who chased Jews with a knife didn’t get a decent meal; or demand that a policeman who made a racist remark while guarding a terrorist be prosecuted, and if he isn’t, they demand to know why.
The same standards aren’t being applied in the Duma investigation.
Over the past weeks we have not heard even one politician crying out in protest against the violations of the suspects’ human rights, and no right wing organization, other than the legal aid society Honenu, has gone public with a demand to stop the abuse.
Despite the fact that investigation of the arson in Duma is important, I believe the interrogators have crossed boundaries and red lines. Unfortunately, I can’t expand on this issue because of the gag order imposed on the case—in the future we will reveal the truth about these dark days for civil rights in Israel.
The problem is not only the severe harm to the detainees’ civil rights, but most importantly it is the fact that any such interrogations are contrary to the purpose of finding the truth, and may cause a terrible miscarriage of justice. When interrogators abuse, threaten and harass a suspect—all for the sake of forcing him to admit his guilt—it is possible that an innocent person would confess to crimes he did not commit. Such things have happened.
In dozens of decisions on Arab terrorist cases, former Chief Justice Aharon Barak ruled that while investigations of security issues are important, at the same time there is a duty to set limits the actions of Shabak interrogators: “This is the plight of a democracy, that not all the means are acceptable in it, and not all the practices which are employed by its enemies are available to it. A democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back,” Barak stressed. But regarding the hilltop youths, it appears that those statements of the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court have been forgotten by today’s Israeli judges.
Another problem, perhaps the central one here, concerns the conduct of our own camp: rabbis, municipal heads and public leaders in the settlements do not go out of their way to help the incarcerated hilltop youths.
It’s easy to understand the settlement leaders’ behavior: why should they go out of their way to help those kids who often come across as insolent, anti-Zionist and rebellious.
But such a view is fundamentally mistaken. Even those who disagree with the hilltop youths, should learn from our experience that the persecution of the hilltop youths will then continue on to the physical abuse of settlers in Amona and Efrat, and eventually reach even to the “good children” of Givat Shmuel and Ra’anana; the abuse of a 16-year-old boy with giant side curls will soon spread to impact the settlement’s rabbi and the settlement’s security chief, and so on.
This slippery slope is visible before our eyes: the Jewish Department of the Shabak, the police nationalistic crime unit in the Judea and Samaria district, and elements in the prosecutor’s office see the hilltop youths as “the enemy, terrorists, attackers,” the way Shabak agents have put it. If the hilltop youths are the enemy, then their parents from the previous generation of settlers are “parents of terrorists,” their neighbors from the community are “supporters of terrorism” (“If you give them water, it means you support terrorism” goes the Shabak’s rationale), and we’ll all soon discover that the boundary line between terrorists and supporters of terrorism is very thin.
Make no mistake about it: despite the fact that the heads of major security forces—Roni Alsheikh, Yoram Cohen and Yossi Cohen—are observant Jews, or perhaps because of it, many in their organizations view all settlers as the enemy.Itamar Ben-Gvir