The attorney general on Sunday halted the investigation into the Shin Bet security service agents suspected of torturing a Palestinian terror suspect during an interrogation in 2019.
The suspect, Samer Arbid, is believed to have been responsible for a deadly terror bombing on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in August 2019 that Rina Shnerb, 17, and her father and brother were seriously injured.
Arbid, the suspected leader of the PFLP cell that carried out the bombing, was arrested a month after the bombing along with two other cell members. Arbid, who had a long history of involvement in terrorist activities, was allegedly viciously beaten during his interrogation by the Shin Bet, resulting in critical injuries that put him in the hospital.
Shortly thereafter, the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigation Division announced it was launching a probe into the case, all details of which were sealed under a court-issued gag order. Some aspects of the Justice Ministry investigation still cannot be published.
“As part of the investigation, a number of Shin Bet interrogators were questioned on suspicion of having used force illegally. In addition, witness statements were checked, documents were seized and the opinion of a legal medical institution was received,” Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office said in a statement Sunday.
Though torture was made illegal in Israel by a 1999 court decision, security services can receive special permission to use “physical interrogation methods” — widely understood to mean torture — in the case of so-called “ticking time bombs,” where there is belief that an attack is about to happen imminently, justifying the use of physical abuse.
Such permission was reportedly granted to the interrogators in Arbid’s case.
On Sunday, Mandelblit’s office announced he was mothballing the probe.
“After reviewing the evidence and in light of a recommendation by the investigative team and the opinion of the officials in the state prosecutor’s office who followed the investigation, the attorney general has decided to shelve the case in light of an absence of evidence that a crime was committed,” Mandelblit’s office said in a statement.
The Shin Bet lauded the decision to shelve the investigation and appeared to indicate that the use of torture was warranted in the case.
“The information received from the interrogation of the terrorist Samer Arbid, the murderer of Rina Shnerb (may her memory be for a blessing), resulted in the location of many weapons and the prevention of additional terror attacks that were planned by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
The head of the security service, Nadav Argaman, said he fully supported the interrogators, who “carried out their mission professionally… and in accordance with the law, and whose actions saved the lives of many Israelis.”
Addameer, an organization that advocates for Palestinian prisoners, denounced the decision, saying it showed that the Israeli government, which it referred to as “the occupation,” would not conduct true investigations into the Shin Bet’s actions toward Palestinians.
“Addameer condemns such a decision as it inevitably allows for the use of torture. It also confirms the Israeli occupation’s unwillingness to investigate and hold the [Shin Bet] accountable for the excessive use of force and torture against Palestinian detainees during interrogations,” the organization said in a statement.
Arbid’s lawyers said he suffered broken bones and a heart-related issue during the interrogation.
“Samer Arbid was severely tortured by Israeli interrogators. He was transferred to the hospital unconscious and suffers from several fractures,” his lawyers said in a statement released by the Addameer Foundation, a Palestinian legal organization that often represents terror suspects.
On August 23, an IED that had been planted next to the Bubin natural spring in the central West Bank, near the Dolev settlement, was triggered by terrorists as the Shnerb family from the central Israeli town of Lod visited the site. Rina Shnerb was declared dead at the scene and her father Eitan and brother Dvir, 19, were taken to a hospital in Jerusalem after being wounded by the blast.
“Arbid led the cell, prepared the IED and set it off the moment he saw the Shnerb family reach the spring,” the Shin Bet said at the time of his arrest.