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3 anti-assimilation activists cop to attack on Jewish-Arab school

Suspects’ attorneys say confessions were obtained under duress and will not be admissible in a trial

A photo of graffiti found spray painted on the wall of a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem November 29, 2014, which reads 'Down with assimilation' (photo credit: Arik Abulof, Jerusalem Fire Department)
A photo of graffiti found spray painted on the wall of a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem November 29, 2014, which reads 'Down with assimilation' (photo credit: Arik Abulof, Jerusalem Fire Department)

Three men who were arrested Saturday in connection with an arson attack last month on a Jerusalem Arab-Jewish school have confessed to committing the crime, the Shin Bet security service announced Thursday.

After the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court partially lifted a gag order on the case on Sunday, security officials confirmed that the suspects, aged 18-22, admitted to torching the Jewish-Arab school because of anti-assimilation ideology.

The suspects, Yitzhak Gabai and brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twitto, all belong to the far-right group Lehava, which works to prevent intermarriage and coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

On November 29, two first-grade classrooms and a playground were set on fire during a nighttime attack on the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School. The suspects spray-painted messages that read “There is no coexistence with cancer”; “Death to the Arabs”; and “Kahane was right,” a reference to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mentor of the Jewish ultranationalist movement.

The attack drew condemnation from politicians across the spectrum, and hundreds rallied in support of the school in the days following the attack.

The three suspects in the arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem smile at photographers in the Petah TIkvah Magistrate's Court on Thursday, December 11, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)
The three suspects in the arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem smile at photographers in the Petah TIkvah Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, December 11, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

The Shin Bet said that in confessing, the suspects had said they had attacked the school in order to “raise the issue of objection to coexistence and intermarriage to the top of the public and media’s agenda.”

The five Hand in Hand schools across the country educate over 1,000 students and aim to “create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel” through bilingual education in Hebrew and Arabic, and with integrated classes.

The three suspects were also on hand when Lehava activists demonstrated and clashed with police outside of a Arab-Jewish wedding earlier this year, Channel 2 reported.

Lehava protesters hold signs reading "assimilation is a holocaust" and shout anti-coexistence slogans outside a Jewish-Muslim near Tel Aviv on August 17, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash 90)
Lehava protesters hold signs reading “assimilation is a holocaust” and shout anti-coexistence slogans outside a Jewish-Muslim near Tel Aviv on August 17, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash 90)

Attorneys Itamar Ben Gvir and Avichai Hajbi, who represent the three, said that the confessions were coerced and would not be admissible in a trial.

“We met with suspects five days after the the Shin Bet [security service] interrogation and found that they had been abused severely, deprived of sleep, causing them emotional distress,” they said, joking that under the extreme duress of their interrogation, they would even have confessed to the unsolved murder of Haim Arlozorov in 1933.

Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein said his organization does not act illegally, accusing the Shin Bet in a statement of trying to frame Lehava to thwart its “holy work of saving the daughters of Israel.”

Justin Jalil and AFP contributed to this report.

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