Flag daubed ‘Death to Zionists’ found during arrest of Jewish terror suspects

Shin Bet also releases video showing students burning Israeli flag; security coordinator suspected of deleting CCTV footage showing suspects leaving settlement on way to attack

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Amid growing public criticism of the Shin Bet, the security service publicized evidence Sunday evening that “indicates the extreme anti-Zionist characteristics” of the teens it arrested on suspicion of involvement in the October stone throwing that led to the death of a 47-year-old Palestinian mother of eight.

One piece of evidence included a video uncovered during the investigation that depicts the burning of an Israeli flag. A second item the Shin Bet said its agents found in the room of a suspect was an Israeli flag with a swastika drawn over the Star of David along with the phrase, “Death to Zionists” daubed at the top.

Attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, who is representing one of the suspects, said there was no proof that the video and the daubed flag belonged to the teens arrested in the case. Moreover, he accused the Shin Bet of cynically publishing the evidence because it knows its case “is crumbling.”

“When the Shin Bet is under pressure, all methods are suddenly kosher; so, in the coming days we will hear spins against the suspects claiming they are are anti-Zionists and what have you. In reality, these are good children who love the State of Israel,” Ben Gvir said.

An Israeli flag with a swastika and a message saying “Death to Zionists,” said by the Shin Bet on January 6, 2019 to have been made by Jewish teens suspected of murdering a Palestinian woman in the West Bank. (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet released the evidence hours after a press conference held by the five suspects’ attorneys, who accused the security service of having tortured their clients during their interrogation. Moreover, the lawyers said the teens have an alibi placing them away from the site near the Tapuah Junction, where the stone that killed Aisha Rabi was hurled.

The Shin Bet also addressed “false” accusations made by “interested parties” against its handling of the investigation.

The agency asserted that the suspects were not “abducted,” but rather arrested by officers who were equipped with warrants and had notified the minors’ parents ahead of time.

Acknowledging that it had barred the suspects from meeting with their attorneys, the Shin Bet pointed out that it was a step “taken from time to time, against both Arab and Jewish suspects… in serious terror acts” and that the Lod District Court had signed off on the measure, despite appeals from their lawyers.

The Shin Bet said it has been careful to place the suspects away from adult inmates and that the interrogations were being carried out “in accordance with the directives of the medical authorities.”

The suspects were examined throughout the interrogation and “did not raise any complaints to the Israel Prisons Service medical authorities,” or with the judges presiding over their remand hearings, the security service added.

The suspects were also provided with religious items, including prayer shawls, in order to observe the Sabbath, the Shin Bet says.

A car belonging to a Palestinian couple is seen after it was involved in a deadly crash reportedly due to stone-throwing by Israeli settlers at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank, on October 12, 2018. (Zachariah Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights); Aisha Muhammad Talal Rabi (Courtesy)

The attorneys representing the suspects — Ben Gvir as well as Honenu’s Adi Keidar and Hay Haber — said in their 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.

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 said 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.

A judge on Sunday extended the remands of the five suspects until Thursday. Two of the teens nabbed in a second round of arrests on Saturday night have been barred from meeting with their lawyers until Tuesday.

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 Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday evening that the security coordinator of Rehelim has been interrogated by the Shin Bet on suspicion that he deleted footage allegedly showing the suspects leaving the settlement on their way to the attack.

The Rehelim official was released after being questioned.

The news channel also reported that a squad of Shin Bet agents had arrived at the settlement the morning after the attack and let a rabbi at Pri Haaretz know that it was investigating the stone-throwing incident. However, the agents assured the rabbi that they would not violate the Sabbath to conduct their investigation and would instead return after sundown to question the students.

During that time, however, the rabbi tipped off residents in the nearby Yitzhar settlement who drove to the yeshiva — violating religious laws that prohibit driving on the Sabbath — in order to coach students on how to withstand Shin Bet interrogations.

The Times of Israel spoke with a Yitzhar official, who said that rabbis in the settlement had signed off on the extreme measure upon deeming that the Shin Bet interrogations would pose life threatening danger.

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