The usually taciturn Shin Bet security service lashed out against Jewish terror organizations on Thursday, saying the groups display an “extremist, anti-Zionist ideology” and bear part of the responsibility for the current unrest in Israel and the West Bank.
In recent weeks, the Shin Bet and police have arrested a number of far-right Jewish Israelis believed to be members of one such extremist Jewish group, under the suspicion that they carried out “grave terror attacks,” the Shin Bet said in a statement, referring specifically to the killing of three members of the Dawabsha family in a firebombing attack this summer.
“These terror attacks, which are suspected of having been carried out by the organization, led to the murder of three innocent Palestinians, which destabilized the area and negatively influenced the security situation,” the Shin Bet said.
Eighteen-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha and his parents were killed in the firebombing of their home in the Palestinian village of Duma on July 31, 2015. The couple’s then-four-year-old son was the sole survivor from his immediate family.
A Star of David and the words “revenge” and “long live the messiah” were spray-painted on a wall near the family’s small house.
Since the deadly attack, Palestinians have often highlighted the firebombing and lack of progress in the case as one of the causes of the ongoing wave of knife, gun and car-ramming terror attacks targeting Israelis that has swept through the country since mid-September.
The Shin Bet accused the Jewish suspects of using “violent means to bring about a change in the government in the State of Israel.”
Earlier in the day, the suspects’ attorneys accused the Shin Bet of “outrageous physical violence” against their clients.
“The Shin Bet investigators are allowing themselves to abuse and strike the youth. I understand that the investigators want to arrive at their goal, but there’s a limit,” the lawyers, all from the Honenu organization, which principally handles cases of Israelis accused of nationalistic crimes, said during a press conference.
The Shin Bet, however, claimed in a statement that the suspects were not tortured, but were rather “interrogated in an intensive way with regards to the suspicions against them.”
The 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.
News broke earlier this month about the arrests of several Jewish extremists, following widespread rumors of a “dramatic development” in a major case, though most of the information related to the case, including the identities of the suspects, remains under an official gag order.
This week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Army Radio that security services knew who carried out the Duma attack, “but we do not have enough proof yet to try them.”
Right-wing figures have come out harshly against the Shin Bet and other legal authorities for their investigation.
Jewish Home party Knesset member Betzalel Smotrich denied that the murder of the three Dawabsha family members was a terror attack, saying in a newspaper column that attacks by Jewish youths were “serious crimes,” which may be nationalistically motivated, but should not be equated with attacks by Palestinians.
Apparently referring to the Duma investigation, the ultra-conservative lawmaker further claimed the Shin Bet had “crossed all red lines.” Smotrich appeared to break a gag order on the probe, referring to specific suspects who had been taken in for questioning.
The leader of the anti-Arab Lehava organization, Bentzi Gopstein, denounced the Shin Bet in a tweet for “the harsh tortures” to which suspects in the case were subjected. Gopstein also broke the gag order, revealing the age of one of the suspects.
“We are sending a message to these youth that they are the enemy. What a shame, it will only lead to difficult things, unfortunately. Someone mature and responsible is needed to calm down the Shin Bet,” he wrote.
Those condemnations of the Shin Bet, from both official figures like Smotrich and fringe radicals like Gopstein, did not go unnoticed by the security service.
“Unfortunately, since carrying out the arrests, the Shin Bet has recognized a proactive and ongoing effort whose goal is to slander the agency and its workers, and disrupt our operational activities,” the security service said Thursday.
“This attempt deserves all manner of condemnation and will not weaken the hands of the Shin Bet going forward in its actions, as it fights for the citizens of Israel under our national values,” the Shin Bet said.