Three Jewish West Bank terrorist suspects may be released
A new battle has flared up between the Shin Bet and the right-wing legal aid group Honenu over the alleged actions of three Jewish West Bank residents.
According to a joint Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and police statement, two separate arrests took place on Monday.
In one case, the individual is being interrogated by the Shin Bet because he is suspected of both terrorism against Palestinians and attacking Israeli security forces.
In the other case, two people are being interrogated by the police on suspicion of terrorism against Palestinians, without allegations relating to Israeli security forces.
The names of the three arrested persons are still under gag order.
On Tuesday, the Nazareth District Court pressured the Shin Bet and the police to decide what charges would be brought against the three by cutting the remaining pre-indictment detention time.
Originally, a lower court had extended their detention until at least the middle of next week. In contrast, Judge Arafat Taha ruled on appeal that the detention would be extended only until this Friday.
Honenu lawyer Adi Keidar, representing the suspects, said, “The court criticized the conduct of the prosecution and of the projected future program for the investigation,” which led to decreasing the detention by five days.
The court did schedule a hearing for Friday, which will give the Shin Bet and the police a chance to bring new evidence to try to either extend the detention or file an indictment.
However, there were no signs from the prosecution that an indictment was imminent. The police had not responded to inquiries about the court’s decision by press time.
The latest alleged Jewish terrorism saga between the Shin Bet and Honenu comes with the sides already engaged on several fronts.
Palestinian Muhammad Maroh Kabaha was indicted on February 4 for the terrorist murder of Esther Horgen on December 20.
Kabaha said he sought vengeance for the death of a Palestinian friend of his who was serving time in an Israeli prison and fell sick.
Besides the death of Horgen, the Shin Bet has reported a variety of ongoing violent incidents at different levels by Palestinians against Jews living in the West Bank over the past year.
Responding to Horgen’s killing, Ahuvia Sandak and a group of other Jewish activists allegedly attacked Palestinian cars with rocks in later December.
When Israeli police went into a high-speed chase after Sandak and his associates, Sandak was killed when the car he was in flipped.
There is an ongoing controversy between the police and Honenu about whether the police should be accused of causing Sandak’s death, or whether they were merely trying to bring the activists to justice for endangering Palestinians by throwing rocks at them.
Since Horgen and Sandak’s death, there has been increasing tension and more altercations between right-wing Jewish activists and Honenu on one side and the Shin Bet and the police on the other side.
Palestinians have also accused Jewish West Bank residents of increasing widespread violence against them with Israel insufficiently prosecuting those responsible.
The arrest of the three appears to be in response to this latest criticism.
However, it is far from clear whether actual serious Jewish terrorism charges will emerge from the case or lighter price tag-type charges.
In January 2020, a group of four right-wing Jewish activists were arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet for what was described as high-profile Jewish terrorism. Some of the activists were even prevented from speaking to lawyers for an extended period, an extreme measure reserved only for high-profile terrorism cases. This resulted in three indictments for price-tag type charges.
On January 19, 2020, one of the right-wing activists, Dor Oved, was indicted for a mere price-tag attempt. Oved, from Mevaseret Zion, allegedly came to Abu Gosh in the early days of January 2020 to commit price tag attacks against Arab property.
There were signs that Oved might even have had violent intentions since he was carrying a concealed knife and flammable materials, but the indictment against him in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court only cited him for charges relating to vandalizing property, illegal knife possession and obstruction of justice.
It was unclear why he was not indicted for an attempted violent crime. The obstruction of justice charge related to his attempt to clandestinely drop the knife out of his clothes before entering the police station, though the police secured the knife.
The other two attempted price tag indictments were not filed until December 29, 2020.
The two were accused of dressing up with face-masks and carrying gear to slash tires and vandalize Arab property.
However, when the two (and a third individual who was never caught or identified) ran into Israeli security forces, their plans came apart and they were captured while trying to escape.
No actual terrorism or violence charges were made in any of these cases despite the initial high-profile Shin Bet announcements.
There are indications that the Shin Bet may have had additional evidence of violence by some of the activists, but that such evidence may have been later found inadmissible at trial or entailed a risk of revealing sources and methods.
In light of this background, it remains unclear whether this week’s new saga could become a full-fledged Jewish terrorism case like those against Amiram Ben Uliel, convicted of the 2015 Duma arson-murders, or that against the Jewish minor for killing a Palestinian woman with a rock in 2018.