Suspect's detention extended for only one day

Judge slams state’s ‘unimpressive’ case against national security suspect

In scathing rebuke of appeal to further keep suspect in custody after 3 weeks without legal counsel, judge says his arrest has not ‘meaningfully saved the State of Israel’

Illustrative -- Beersheba District Court on December 1, 2019 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative -- Beersheba District Court on December 1, 2019 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A judge at the Beersheba District Court criticized the treatment of an Israeli citizen suspected of serious national security crimes who has been held in custody for nearly three weeks without access to an attorney, saying the case against him was “not impressive.”

The identity of the suspect as well as the exact nature of the alleged crimes remain barred from publication. The case was first reported on Wednesday when the Ashkelon District Court scaled back a full gag order.

During a hearing on Thursday in which the state was seeking to retain the suspect in custody, Judge Eliyahu Bitan criticized the state’s conduct, implying that the continued detention of the suspect was due to an inability to build a strong case.

“It seems to me that you have climbed to the top of the tree and the branches are flimsy,” the judge said, according to the Haaretz daily. “In general the story is not impressive. You have climbed to thirty thousand feet but I suggest you connect with the reality on the ground.”

“The overall picture is very unimpressive and thin,” said Bitan in an attack on the State Attorney’s Office. “It does not seem to me that there is anything dramatic here and that we have meaningfully saved the State of Israel.

“The truth is sought during detention and this too has a limit. We have been at the same level of search for quite some time — more of the same does not justify [the suspect’s] continued detention,” Bitan said.

The judge extended the suspect’s detention for just one day.

Illustrative: A policeman holds handcuffs. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The man was arrested last month in a joint operation by the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service.

He is suspected of “serious and severe security crimes that undermine the security of the state and is being interrogated by the police and Shin Bet,” the Ashkelon court said on Wednesday.

During his 20 days in custody, the man has been barred from speaking with his attorneys, according to the court.

The court decided to scale back the gag order on the case in light of a request from Ynet and Haaretz.

The suspect’s lawyers denied the allegations of national security crimes to Hebrew media.

“Our client is a loyal citizen to the State of Israel and it’s not for nothing that the court ordered his release today,” his attorneys said Wednesday.

The incident comes nearly two months after an IDF intelligence officer accused of harming national security died in a military prison under mysterious circumstances. The serviceman was found in serious condition in his cell on the night of May 16 and was later pronounced dead.

The IDF’s chief of staff has said the officer had nearly caused damage to a state secret, but the damage was prevented at the last minute. The military has said the officer worked alone and did not act on behalf of a foreign government or for financial gain or out of ideology, but out of unspecified “personal motivations.”

Though an autopsy was performed — with a doctor on behalf of the family present — no official cause of death has yet been determined, according to the IDF, though military officials indicated it appeared to be a suicide. Relatives of the officer have expressed doubt that he died by suicide.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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