The attorney for a Jewish Israeli extremist suspected of firebombing a Palestinian home in July said Tuesday that his client was tortured by the Shin Bet security service during interrogations connected to the deadly attack.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again Tuesday rejected claims that the service used unlawful methods, and expressed strong support for the Shin Bet’s conduct in investigating the July 31 attack in the West Bank village of Duma, which killed three members of the Dawabsha family.
Speaking to reporters outside Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court after his first meeting with his client following three weeks of detention, Itamar Ben Gvir said the suspect had been “broken” by his interrogation.
“I met my client after 21 days, during which he was forbidden to meet an attorney,” Ben Gvir said. “I met a man physically, mentally, broken, a man who needs psychotherapy. The Shin Bet investigators made him into a shadow of a man.”
Ben Gvir claimed the questioning was accompanied by “sexual harassment against my client, harm to what is holy to him, to his observance of the Torah and commandments, and sleep deprivation for long periods.”
In an interview with Army Radio, Ben Gvir said a female interrogator touched his client “in all kinds of place,” but did provide any more specific information.
Only one member of the Dawabsha family — four-year-old Ahmed — survived the attack on their home, and remains hospitalized in Israel. The 18-month-old baby Ali was killed on the night of the attack, while parents Riham and Sa’ad succumbed to their injuries in the succeeding weeks.
An unspecified number of Jewish suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism, and prosecutors say they are preparing to indict them. Details of the investigation, and the identity of the suspects, have been withheld from publication by a court-imposed gag order.
“After they saw that my client kept to his story they simply got a license to kill,” Ben Gvir told reporters at the court house. “At a certain point four bullies entered his room and started hitting him, beating him… and used torture implements — awful descriptions, shocking, appalling.”
Ben Gvir said his client told him he was tied in stressful positions, beaten, and knocked to the floor.
“At some point he shouted ‘enough, leave me, let me go, I didn’t do anything’ and they said to him ‘if you don’t give a confession we will continue.'”
“They damaged him and simply made him a shadow of a man. The demanded he confess to things he didn’t do.”
Netanyahu rebuffed the allegations against the Shin Bet before a meeting Monday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Jerusalem.
“Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen and his people are doing excellent and important work for the sake of the people of Israel, and for the security of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“Attacks on them are unacceptable to me. We are a state of law. All Shin Bet activities are done in accordance with the law and with close supervision by the attorney general and the Justice Ministry, and with the approval of the courts,” he said.
Netanyahu added that while Israel “deals with Arab terror day and night and in any place, sadly there are terror attacks carried out by Jews and the Shin Bet needs to deal with them too. We will not tolerate terrorism of any kind.”
The Shin Bet responded to the allegations by Ben Gvir in a statement.
“In light of the significant security threat presented by the activities of members of the group, and [our] duty to thwart ahead of time their intent to continue with severe terror attacks that may lead to deaths, several activists who are central to the terror group were detained for interrogation, and they were interrogated intensively.”
The Shin Bet didn’t specify its methods of interrogation in the statement.
Earlier Monday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett also asserted that the Shin Bet methods are within the confines of the law.
Bennett, a staunch supporter of the West Bank settler movement, told Army Radio that as a cabinet minister he had personally looked into claims that torture has been used on Jewish suspects.
“I can assert that all the actions that are taken — and they are really extraordinary actions in light of an unusual situation — are under control, and with close legal supervision, and they are aimed at preventing the next attack,” he said.