Some 500 right-wing activists demonstrated on Saturday night in Jerusalem over allegations that the Shin Bet security service tortured Jewish Israelis suspected of committing a deadly arson attack against a Palestinian home in the northern West Bank last July.
The attack, which killed three members of the Dawabsha family in the village of Duma, near Nablus, was ruled a terror attack by authorities, leading Israel’s security cabinet to vote to extend extraordinary counterterror measures used in the West Bank against Palestinian terror suspects to Israeli citizens, including administrative detention without trial.
The measures are implemented under the supervision of the High Court of Justice and with the oversight of cabinet ministers, but are not subject to the usual checks of due process.
Several Jewish extremists were detained by the Shin Bet in late November — the exact number has not been revealed — on suspicion of carrying out the Duma attack. On Wednesday, their attorneys, who were first allowed to meet with them earlier that day after two weeks of detention, alleged that the detainees were tortured during their interrogations.
On Saturday, demonstrators stood outside the Jerusalem home of Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen carrying signs that read, “We demand justice” and “Enough persecution by the [state] prosecution.”
As many as 100 of the demonstrators attempted to break through a police cordon to reach Cohen’s home, the Haaretz daily reported. They were pushed back by police.
The demonstrators remained down the street from Cohen’s house, shouting chants against torture and calling for the dismantling of the Shin Bet’s “Jewish division,” which investigates Jewish terror groups.
On Friday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene an urgent meeting of the cabinet committee that oversees the Shin Bet in order to discuss the allegations. The agency operates under the direct authority of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Ariel said that while the Duma attack and the suspicions against the detainees are severe and “no one disputes that,” the accounts by the detainees’ lawyers – including of blows to sensitive organs and denial of sleep – are “chilling and raise the suspicion that severe physical torture took place,” according to Israel Radio.
Ariel’s demand was backed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which deals overwhelmingly with allegations of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
In a Friday tweet, ACRI said, “The report by the lawyers of the suspects in the Duma terror attack regarding the suspects’ interrogation by the Shin Bet raises serious suspicions that illegal methods of interrogation were employed, such as resorting to physical force.”
The group added in a second tweet: “We would like to remind you that a High Court of Justice ruling [forbidding] the use of torture was won by ACRI, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Hotline for Civil Rights and was based, among other sources, on reports by B’Tselem.”
The NGOs mentioned in the second tweet are groups usually dedicated to fighting civil rights abuses allegedly committed against Palestinians, and have been the subject of scathing right-wing criticism in recent weeks.
In response to the accusations, officials with the agency said its actions were within the remit of the legal mandate given to it by the cabinet.
The detainees’ conditions, including the denial of legal counsel during more than two weeks of detention, were brought before the High Court of Justice last week and were approved, they noted.
“All the actions [of the Shin Bet] are carried out according to law and in keeping with judicial precedent,” the organization said in a statement, “and are subject to close oversight of higher authorities.”
Officials further charged that right-wing activists are engaged in a “continuing effort to slander the Shin Bet and its staff, and to obstruct its work,” the NRG news site reported.
In a Saturday interview to the “Olam Katan” synagogue pamphlet, which is distributed in religious-Zionist synagogues nationwide, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked appeared to defend the Shin Bet, saying they were acting within the law, even if the steps being taken by investigators were relatively extreme.
She said she had full faith in Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who is following the investigation closely and is charged with ensuring the Shin Bet does not abuse its powers.
Shaked has asked Weinstein and Shin Bet chief Cohen to personally ensure that “no red lines are crossed” in the interrogations of the terror suspects, she added.
In a Thursday press conference, the attorneys for the detainees, who included Itamar Ben-Gvir, himself a far-right activist who was investigated by the Shin Bet in the past, said that “Shin Bet investigators are allowing themselves to abuse and strike the youths. I understand that the investigators want to reach their goal, but there’s a limit.”
The Shin Bet responded Thursday, saying the suspects were not tortured, but were “interrogated in an intensive manner about the suspicions against them.”
The Dawabsha family home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed on the night of July 31. Only one member of the family — four-year-old Ahmed — survived the attack, and remains hospitalized in Israel. Baby Ali was killed on the night of the attack, while parents Riham and Sa’ad died of their injuries in hospital.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.