The Shin Bet security service on Sunday revealed that a group of Jewish teenagers arrested over the past week are suspected of involvement in the murder of a Palestinian woman in October.
Aisha Rabi, 47, was struck in the head with a large stone while sitting in the passenger seat of a car being driven by her husband in the northern West Bank, the Shin Bet said in a statement, providing the first details on the investigation since a gag order was imposed on the case two days after the October 12, 2018, killing of the mother of eight.
The boys are suspected of “terror offenses, including murder,” the Shin Bet said.
The five teenagers are students at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva high school in the northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim. Three of them were arrested last Sunday while an additional two were arrested six days later.
The Shin Bet said that on Saturday morning after the Friday night attack, a group of far-right activists from the settlement of Yitzhar drove to the yeshiva — violating religious laws that prohibit driving on the Sabbath — in order to coach students they suspected were involved in the incident on how to withstand Shin Bet interrogations.
An official in the Honenu legal aid organization representing four of the five of the suspects confirmed to The Times of Israel that Meir Ettinger, a far-right activist and the grandson of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, was part of that delegation that went to coach the students.
The Shin Bet statement confirmed an October 30 report in which a defense official told The Times of Israel that the far-right activists who made the drive were figures known to the Shin Bet who had undergone extensive interrogations at the hands of the agency’s operatives.
The defense official said then that the activists spoke to a number of students they believed were involved in the stone-throwing near the northern West Bank’s Tapuah Junction, giving them tips on how to endure interrogations, reviewing their rights upon detainment, and urging them to remain silent as much as possible.
Additional details regarding the investigation remain under gag order, the Shin Bet said.
Since the first round of arrests last Sunday, the security agency said it “has identified an ongoing effort by interested individuals to slander the organization and its employees and delegitimize its activities.”
Over the past few weeks, settler leaders and right-wing activists have demonstrated against the Shin Bet’s investigation tactics, which have included barring suspects from meeting with attorneys.
Israeli law allows authorities to delay an attorney visit for a terrorism suspect by up to 21 days, subject to court appeal.
On Saturday evening, authorities allowed the three teens arrested last Sunday to meet with their attorneys for the first time, nearly a week after they were detained. The two suspects nabbed in the second round of arrests will be prevented from meeting with their lawyers until at least Tuesday.
“This attempt is worthy of condemnation,” the security agency said of the protests against its conduct. “But it does not deter the Shin Bet from continuing its activity to thwart terrorist acts, whether Jewish or Palestinian.”
While former Jewish suspects in attacks on Palestinians have accused Shin Bet agents of having tortured them during interrogations, the security service says “its interrogations are carried out according to the law and are subject to the supervision of the State Attorney’s Office.”
“The detainees in Shin Bet interrogations receive all the rights they are entitled to under the law,” the agency said. “Claims regarding the denial of the rights of those interrogated… are baseless and their purpose is to divert the discussion from the serious suspicions in which they were detained for interrogation.”
Responding to the Shin Bet statement, Rabi’s husband told The Times of Israel, “I hope those who killed my wife will go to prison.”
“It is important that they go there because others who want to carry out the same crime need to know they will pay a heavy price. I don’t want to see anyone else have to experience what my family has experienced,” he added.
The attorneys representing the suspects — Itamar Ben Gvir as well as Honenu’s Adi Keidar and Hay Haber — said in a press conference at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court that their clients had nothing to do with Rabi’s death and that the Shin Bet had “cynically” waited to issue its statement until minutes before a judge ruled on extending the suspects’ remand.
The court ruled to extend the remand of all five suspects until Thursday.
The attorneys claimed that their clients have an alibi placing them away from the site near the Tapuah Junction where the stone that killed Rabi was hurled.
Confirming fears expressed at settler demonstrations over the past week, the lawyers said their clients underwent “torture” while in Israeli custody.
“From morning to night (my client) was shackled to a chair, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, in a small cell,” said Keidar. “The boy I met was tired, broken and exhausted.”
Ben Gvir argued that the Shin Bet chose to “suddenly” lift its gag order because “its case is crumbling.”
“Just yesterday, it was telling reporters not to publish the information it released today because it would endanger Israeli security. What has happened since?” Ben Gvir shouted.
Ben Gvir added that the interrogators had “cursed, spit on and even sexually harassed” his client. He claimed that the Shin Bet agents had even performed a jailhouse informant exercise with cops posing as inmates who pressured the suspects to confess. Similar efforts were documented in other Jewish terror probes, including the investigation into the 2015 terror attack in the Palestinian village of Duma in which three members of the Dawabsha family were burned to death.
Commenting on the convoy of far-right activists that violated the Sabbath in order to coach the suspects on how to bear Shin Bet interrogation, Ben Gvir refused to pass judgment on the group, saying the incident only showed how far the Shin Bet had driven religious Jews in its “excessive” interrogations.
On his way out of the courthouse, he told The Times of Israel that the suspects remained silent throughout the interrogations and “refused to answer any of (the investigators’) questions.”
Pressed as to why he has not criticized the Shin Bet’s interrogation tactics when they have been used against Palestinian suspects, Ben Gvir argued that the question posed a false equivalence.
“When a Jew throws a rock at a Palestinian, it is not terrorism. When a Palestinian throws a rock at a Jew, it is terrorism because it’s part of a larger effort to wipe us out from our land,” he said.
However, the attorney clarified that the “extreme” tactics used by the Shin Bet against his client should not be used against Palestinian inmates either.
While the suspects’ remand hearings were taking place, dozens of young far-right activists protested outside the Rishon Lezion courthouse, clashing briefly with police.
At a second protest site near the entrance to Jerusalem, one teen was arrested for blocking the road, a Honenu spokesman said, adding that officers were using excessive force to clamp down on the protest.