The confessions of a 17-year-old Israeli youth, charged with membership in a terror organization and various incidents of vandalism, were thrown on by the Lod Central District Court on the grounds that his confession had been coerced by investigators who posed as fellow inmates in a fake detention center, and who even threatened the teen with violence and rape.
The Jewish minor was arrested by the Shin Bet domestic security service back in 2015 in connection with the deadly arson attack against the Palestinian Dawabshe family in the West Bank village of Duma, but the court found the teenager's confession non-admissable. In 2016, the minor was charged with a series of other offenses, which included insulting a religion with racial motivation, and arson and vandalism at the Dormition Abbey on Jerusalem’s Mt. Zion.
Following the charges, the minor was incarcerated at a fake detention center in Acre, erected in a ruse designed to extract information from him. He was placed in a cell together with others who were ostensibly dangerous criminals but were in fact undercover policemen placed there to eavesdrop and observe him.
At the time, the minor said things that tied him to some of the events attributed to him, but when he was taken for questioning by the Shin Bet he maintained his right to silence; but later admitted to the charges. After meeting his attorney he retracted his confession.
The court found that while incarcerated, the youth was subject to threats by his cellmates, the undercover policemen. Posing as serious criminals, the police officers accused the minor of being a snitch, and forced him to tell them about his crimes so that if he snitched on them, they would have incriminating material on him.
The court also found that one of the undercover policemen, Aviv, intimidated the youth into giving him half of his meal on the evening following a religious fast day. On another occasion he was prevented from performing the morning prayers with his Tefilin, a religious obligation.
In another incident described by the court, Aviv threatened the minor into entering a bathroom with him, and, as part of their deception and efforts to scare the youth, sounds could be heard from the next stall as if Arab prisoners were being cursed and harassed by interrogators.
In another tactic used to put pressure on the youth, drugs were concealed in his bed by his undercover cellmates who ordered him to stay mum. They later accused him of snitching on them. Furthermore, one of his cellmates would call him a “girl” and threatened to rape him.
The court ruled that the methods used to extract confessions from the minor crossed a line and were illegal. The judge reprimanded the police and Shin Bet for the abusive methods used to obtain confessions and wrote that considering the threats and intimidation he felt, the boy had no free choice when confessing to the crimes prompting the court to reject the confession.
“The state must ensure that a prisoner can perform his religious obligations while incarcerated,” the judge wrote in reference to the limitations imposed on the boy with regards to his prayers and Shabbat observance. The judge also stated that the Shin Bet was wrong in tying the minor to a chair for extensive periods of time.
The boy’s attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir praised the court's decision, saying his client had been denied his basic rights. "This is an important day for Israeli democracy. The time has come for the Shin Bet and the police to know that the Hilltop Youth (young extreme
-right settlers) also have basic rights. All red lines have been crossed in this investigation. I'm glad the court accepted our claim and disqualified the confession," Ben-Gvir said.
The prosecution said that they are studying the court’s decision in depth.
Intimidating questioning tactics
Dozens of minors from a West Bank religious school, questioned by the Shin Bet following the arrests of five of their classmates, claim that the Shin Bet used aggressive intimidation tactics when interrogating them. The five Jewish minors were arrested on terror charges, including in relation to the death of a Palestinian mother of nine hit by a rock as she was traveling in a car with her family in the West Bank in October. Details of the case are still under gag order.
The five suspects who were arrested were prevented from meeting an attorney over the weekend and their counsel expressed concern that the Shin Bet would use the advantage to extract information via illegal methods. “Abusing the boys is dangerous for democracy,” said their attorney Itamar Ben Gvir.
Dozens of rabbis, educators and community leaders sent a sharply worded letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accusing the Shin Bet of using illegal interrogation tactics and asking that they prevent the rights of the detainees from being trampled.
Israel Police said in response: “The investigation is being carried out under a gag order and consequently we cannot elaborate. That said, the police conduct investigations in a professional manner to uncover the truth while ensuring the rights of the suspect’s are protected.”
The Shin Bet also issued a response: “The Shin Bet’s primary objective is preventing acts of terror and all of its activities are performed in accordance with the law.
"Since the arrests, the Shin Bet has identified an intentional and ongoing effort by interested parties to defame the agency and its personnel and delegitimize its activity. This attempt is reprehensible, and it will not dissuade the Shin Bet from continuing its activity to thwart any kind of terrorism—Jewish or Palestinian," the agency said.