Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday voiced firm support for the Shin Bet security service and its methods in the interrogation of Jewish terror suspects, which some on the right have condemned as torture. He also harshly condemned Jewish extremists, accusing them of using “murder” in a dangerous quest to “overthrow” the state.
Bennett, a staunch supporter of the West Bank settler movement, told Army Radio that as a cabinet minister he had personally looked into claims that torture has been used on Jewish suspects held in connection with a deadly firebombing attack in the Palestinian village of Duma.
“I can assert that all the actions that are taken — and they are really extraordinary actions in light of an unusual situation — are under control, and with close legal supervision, and they are aimed at preventing the next attack,” he said.
The attack in Duma on July 31 killed three members of a Palestinian family. Only one member of the Dawabsha family — four-year-old Ahmed — survived the attack, and remains hospitalized in Israel. The 18-month-old baby Ali was killed on the night of the attack, while parents Riham and Sa’ad succumbed to their injuries in the succeeding weeks.
An unspecified number of Jewish suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism, and prosecutors say they are preparing to indict them. Details of the investigation, and the identity of the suspects, have been withheld from publication by a court-imposed gag order.
Last week, the suspects’ attorneys, who at the time had been allowed to meet with all but one suspect after two weeks of being denied access their clients — and only after appeals to the High Court — alleged that the detainees were tortured during their interrogations.
In response to the accusations, Shin Bet officials said over the weekend that the agency’s actions were within the bounds of the legal mandate given to it by the cabinet.
Itamar Ben Gvir, the legal representative of one of the suspects, told the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Monday that using torture, the Shin Bet coerced his client into confessing to something he did not do.
“They demanded that he admit to things he didn’t do and he snapped,” he said, arguing that his client’s confession was inadmissible.
Bennett said firm action must be taken against the dozens of Jewish extremists who reject Israel’s secular government’s right to govern. He further said they have been trying to wage a biblical war to bring down the state.
“What we are seeing here is terrorism,” he continued. “There are a few dozen people whose goal is not murder; murder is just their means to undermine the foundations of the state.”
Jewish far-right groups, which often do not recognize the authority of the Israeli government and army, have been blamed for both serious violence, like the Dawabsha killings, and vandalism against Palestinians, Christian holy sites and Israeli military property. Police suspect that Jewish extremists committed a tear gas attack early Tuesday morning against a Palestinian family near Ramallah.
Bennett also said his party’s member MK Bezalel Smotrich was wrong in stating recently said there is no such thing as Jewish terrorism.
“Terror is terror is terror,” Bennett said. “They murdered an entire family as they slept, and the goal was to bring down Israel.”
Bennett asserted that the vast majority of the 500,000 West Bank settlers were not aligned with the extremists.
“We need to exercise the firmest hand possible against those people to catch the Duma murderers, and even more importantly, to prevent the next Duma. If we don’t act there will be another Duma,” he said.