Shaked tells mother of Jewish terror probe suspect to ‘be strong’

In phone call, justice minister clarifies she cannot get involved in investigation; left-wing activists say she would not have same conversation if inmate were Palestinian

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the official opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the official opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked spoke on the phone with the mother of one of the teens arrested in a Jewish terror probe, telling her to “stay strong” and adding that she would relay the woman’s concerns regarding her son’s treatment in Israeli custody to the relevant authorities.

The mother began the call, leaked to the Kan broadcaster Friday, begging Shaked to speak with State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and ensure that he allows her son to see a lawyer.

The Lod District Court has signed off on security officials’ request to bar the three suspects in the major security probe, details of which have been gagged, from meeting with an attorney since their arrest on Sunday.

Israeli law allows authorities to delay an attorney visit for a terrorism suspect by up to 21 days — subject to court appeal. On Thursday, the Lod District Court ruled that the minors be allowed to meet with their lawyers on Saturday evening, nearly a week after their arrest.

“I relayed to him (Nitzan) your cry and made the point clear to him. He made sure that the district attorney was following the matter personally and also reporting back to him,” Shaked told the mother, who sounded as if she was fighting back tears throughout the phone call.

However, the justice minister clarified that she could not intervene in the investigation and that she did not even know the details of the probe.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (R) shakes hands with State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on May 17, 2015. (Dudi Vaknin/pool)

“How can it be that in the State of Israel, a civilized country, our 16-year-old children have not yet seen a lawyer?” the mother continued to lament.

“What I can do — I have already done twice, but will do for the third time — is to bring the matter to the state prosecutor’s attention,” Shaked responded.

“Be strong, and let me know if there is any good news tomorrow,” the minister told the terror suspect’s mother at the conclusion of the phone call.

Shaked’s office confirmed the phone call in a statement, emphasizing the importance of protecting the rights of prisoners. However, the justice minister also criticized the leaking of the conversation, saying it “did not indicate good faith.”

Left-wing activists criticized Shaked for showing courtesy to a parent of a terror suspect, arguing she would not have acted the same had the inmate been Palestinian.

“Every detainee, let alone minors, has the right to see an attorney upon arrest. The thought that we have reached a time when such a basic right depends on the justice minister’s efforts is frightening,” began Peace Now CEO Shaqued Morag in a tweet.

“It also raises the question — is the minister’s phone also open to the mothers of Palestinian minors who are interrogated without seeing an attorney?” the left-wing activist added.

Right-wing activists clash with police outside a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, on the matter of the Jewish youth suspects in a major security probe whose details are under gag order on December 31, 2018. (Flash90)

“When the justice minister holds a direct channel of contact with the families of murder suspects, do not be surprised that there is Jewish terrorism,” tweeted former Peace Now CEO and current candidate in the upcoming Meretz party primaries, Yariv Oppenheimer.

The gagged investigation is being conducted jointly by the Shin Bet security service and the police’s nationalistic crime unit, which are probing the incident as a possible Jewish terror plot.

On Sunday morning, a squad of Shin Bet agents and officers in the Yasam police SWAT unit raided a yeshiva in the northern West Bank and grabbed one student.

Shortly thereafter, a second student was arrested on his way to the religious institution. Hours later, a third teen was arrested in the central city of Modiin.

During one of the arrests, the Kan public broadcaster reported that agents in the Shin Bet security service uncovered an Israeli flag with a swastika drawn on it along with the phrase, “Death to Zionists.”

An official at the northern West Bank religious high school said that roughly 30 students were questioned by the Shin Bet in the weeks leading to the arrests.

Right wing activists clash with police outside a court hearing in Rishon Lezion, on the matter of the Jewish youth suspects in a major security probe whose details are under gag order on December 31, 2018. (Flash90)

The Shin Bet and police’s barring of attorney visits has led to criticism of Israeli authorities’ tactics in probing Jewish terror.

Dozens of prominent national religious leaders — among them the chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Safed, Afula, Kiryat Motzkin and Kiryat Arba — signed on to a Thursday letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan claiming that the Shin Bet was using prohibited interrogation methods and demanding that the ministers prevent the security agency’s “trampling” of the detainees rights.

Earlier this week, the Lod District Court threw out confessions given under extreme duress by a Jewish far-right activist accused of a series of crimes, including membership in a terror organization and vandalizing a prominent Jerusalem church.

The suspect, whose name has been gagged since he was a minor at the time the apparent hate crimes were carried out, was arrested in January 2016 as part of the Shin Bet security service’s broader crackdown against the “terrorist infrastructure” behind the deadly firebombing of the Dawabsha family in the Palestinian village of Duma in July 2015.

During his interrogation, the suspect confessed to the allegations against him. However, his attorney Itamar Ben Gvir argued that those confessions were given following an elaborate jailhouse informant exercise carried out by the Shin Bet and Israel Police in which the suspect was placed in a mock prison in Acre for four days and was threatened and harassed by detectives pretending to be inmates.

Inside the Dawabsha home in Duma. A doll wrapped in a Palestinian flag rests in a stroller to honor Ali. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)

Last month, the “Uvda” investigative TV program published recordings from the jailhouse informant exercise, in which the fake inmates could be heard threatening him and preventing him from eating and sleeping in an effort to get him to talk.

Nearly an identical jailhouse informant exercise was carried out at the same Acre facility against one of the suspects in the Duma attack. However, the Lod District Court ruled last year that the confession extracted from the alleged accomplice was admissible in the case against him. Other admissions of guilt given after the teen underwent torture were thrown out.

The trial against the alleged accomplice — whose name has been barred from publishing since he was a minor at the time of the Duma attack — and primary suspect Amiram Ben Uliel is ongoing.

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