(January 17, 2019 / JNS)
For nealry three years, there has been a debate among members of the religious Zionist public as to who to believe: this writer or esteemed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who claimed that there was no torture or abuse during the investigations into the deadly arson attack in the West Bank town of Duma. The latter adopted the version of events offered by law enforcement, which said that while the investigations “may not have been pleasant, they were fair and balanced.”
During this period, one minor, who was never a suspect in the Duma murders, was arrested for setting fire to Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey due to the branching out of the investigation. His trial was held out of the public eye.
Around two weeks ago, however, the entire country reacted in horror when it heard portions of the recordings from the interrogation played on the Uvda investigative television news magazine. Not even in my worst nightmares could I have imagined police disguised as criminals would be capable of starving a minor, repeatedly snatching food from his mouth, threatening him with murder and rape, making him their lackey and giving him the sense he wouldn’t survive the night—all this under the watchful eye of Shin Bet security agency officials.
What the program did not mention, but was described in the detailed ruling of Central District Court Judge Michal Brant, who disqualified all of the minor’s confessions, is that after the youth was removed from the house of horrors built especially for him and taken for investigation by the Shin Bet security agency, he continued to remain silent. At this stage, two men tasked with getting him to talk were sent into the interrogation room, and lo and behold, after 10 minutes alone with the suspect, they obtained a detailed confession.
This minor’s story should have shaken the foundations, but civil-rights organizations all kept their silence, and politicians fell asleep on the job. One would expect the gatekeepers, chief among them the attorney general and the State Attorney’s Office, to express reservations about the manner in which the confession was obtained and order an investigation into the police officers who abused the child. Instead, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is currently examining ways to circumvent the court’s decision in an effort to move forward with the minor’s case.
The minor in question is going through a difficult time. Ever since the investigations, he has needed various treatments and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But this isn’t just about him. In a democratic society, it concerns all of us. Can all the rules be broken in order to crack a case? Does the end justify the means?
When it comes to terrorists, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that in a democracy, not all means of interrogation are legitimate. As a result, a democracy often has to fight with one hand tied behind its back. Now it turns out that what is true for Arab terrorists is not true for Jews, whose only sin is they are members of the so-called “hilltop youth.”
Let me be clear: One can most definitely disagree with them, one can take exception to their path, and one can even say that their actions are causing real damage. But the hilltop youth have rights, too. And those who deny them these rights deny the essence of the existence of a democratic state.
Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party.