(June 18, 2018 / JNS)
I agree, the murder in Duma was horrific. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Dawabshe home, killing 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabshe and his parents, Saad and Riham, and seriously wounding his 4-year-old brother—a terrible crime. The Shin Bet security agency and the police could leave no stone unturned to capture the perpetrators.
However, I have doubts about the murderer’s identity, and the fact that homes in the same village are often set on fire as part of a clan war raises more questions.
But nothing prepared me for the meeting with Amiram Ben-Uliel, who is suspected of carrying out the murder. After three weeks in which he was not allowed to see a lawyer, I went to a Shin Bet detention facility early one morning to meet with him as he was leaving an interrogation room that had become a torture room.
I had known him as a physically and spiritually healthy young man. But he stood before me broken, trembling and barely speaking. The words he did get out were shocking: He spoke of beatings, special restraints, limbs being constricted and stretched, and continual physical and mental abuse until he admitted to the charges. The Shin Bet calls this approach “enhanced interrogation.”
This did not happen in Iran or Syria, but in Israel, at the behest of the heads of the Shin Bet and with the approval of senior prosecutors, totally ignoring the roles of the political system or the courts. In effect, the arraigning judge repeatedly assented to the Shin Bet’s requests.
Aside from the risk of convicting an innocent person, these tactics raise the equally disturbing question of whether all means are kosher to secure a confession from a suspect. Humiliating someone, keeping him awake or pressing on his vulnerabilities is one thing, but actual torture? Breaking him down physically and mentally while preventing him from meeting with lawyers—and all under a gag order?
Former Chief Justice Aharon Barak and his Supreme Court colleagues were asked to address the matter, and ruled that “it is the fate of a democracy that it does not see all means as legitimate, and not all the tactics employed by its enemies are open to it. Often, a democracy fights with one hand tied behind its back. Despite this, a democracy has the upper hand because protecting the rule of law and recognizing individual freedoms are an important element in its concept of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and its power and allow it to overcome the difficulties it faces.”
In the past, these words served as a shield against the use of excessive force, not only when it came to petitions to demolish terrorists’ homes or deport terrorists, but also against criticism of the indulgent prison conditions terrorists enjoy. “We won’t be a dictatorship,” the civil-rights champions preach. “There is a red line, even when interrogating murderers of children.”
Where did civil rights go when it comes to the wayward Jewish hilltop youths? Is it suddenly permissible to throw off enlightened democratic principles? Are all means in play when one of them is a suspect and a confession must be obtained? The public stayed quiet—and is still quiet—possibly because it does not understand that today it may be the hilltop youths, but tomorrow any one of us could find themselves summoned for an “enhanced interrogation.”
Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party.