129 accusations, no investigations
In 2005, 65 people interrogated by the Shin Bet security service filed complaints against their interrogators. In 2006, 64 complaints were filed. None were transferred to the Police Investigations Unit, and therefore none led to a criminal indictment. Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann released these figures in response to a query by Hadash MK Dov Khenin. Friedmann explained that no complaints "raised concern of a criminal act."
Khenin suggested that no complaints led to an investigation because they were reviewed by a Shin Bet investigative officer, who is subordinate to the State Prosecutor's Office. He wondered whether the reviews should be transferred to an outsider. Friedmann promised to transfer some sample cases to the Justice Ministry for external review, to "ascertain whether they have any basis, or if the person who reviewed them really did a thorough job." In other words, there will be an investigation, and that's important.
Khenin told Haaretz that this is "an astounding and shocking figure. There were 129 false accusations filed against the Shin Bet, not one of which was worthy of even an investigation. That means there is an entire system without supervision."
Last December, Nir Hasson published an article in Haaretz about complaints submitted to the Committee Against Torture, included accusations that the Shin Bet recently developed new interrogation methods: Interrogators allegedly leave prisoners hanging in the air with their hands and feet handcuffed, pull out beards and insert objects into the anus. According to the Public Committee Against Torture, the Shin Bet's interrogation methods are gradually creeping back to the period before the High Court of Justice's 1999 decision to ban torture. The committee says the Shin Bet reviewer has only two types of responses: There was no basis to the claims, or this was a case of a ticking bomb that justified the use of force.
The Shin Bet responded at the time, "Terror investigations are conducted in accordance with the High Court of Justice ruling, under the strict supervision and control of the Justice Ministry and the courts. Many Israeli citizens owe their lives to these actions."
The Attorney General's Office stated at the time, "All complaints are thoroughly reviewed by the investigating officer and a senior prosecutor, who serves as the investigating officer's supervisor in the State Prosecutor's office."
Made for TV
May 14 should be a revolutionary day in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The first session open to the press is scheduled to be held that day, and it will be broadcast live on the Knesset Channel. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will present the annual survey of her ministry's activity and answer committee members' questions. The session is expected to resemble an American congressional hearing.
Committee chair MK Tzachi Hanegbi is planning to hold six such sessions in the coming year. This was approved by the committee several weeks ago. The prime minister, defense minister, chief of staff, Shin Bet chief and National Security Council head will attend the other sessions.
Livni was selected to be first because her appearance is the least sensitive. Unlike the prime minister or defense minister, she is not currently up against public criticism. If the Shin Bet chief does indeed answer questions in front of the cameras for three hours, it will be a real breakthrough in Israeli democracy.
In recent years, the political and security debate has moved from the Knesset to other forums such as the Herzliya Conference and the Caesarea Conference. Hanegbi hopes the six sessions will bring some of this debate back to the Knesset. He hopes to expose the public to the high level of discussion in the committee and to improve the Knesset's ability to supervise the defense establishment.
The committee approved the decision to open the sessions by 10-7 majority. The previous committee chair, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, stood out among the opponents. "If something's not broken, don't fix it," he says. He says this committee is the most prestigious in the Knesset, and this must be maintained. He warns that the media presence will affect the focused discussion that typifies the committee, and that people will be dragged into provocations and attempts to grab attention.
He also cautions that people who appear before the committee will not say before the cameras what they would behind closed doors. It is not true, he says, that everything is leaked. There are often requests not to allow things to leak, and they are honored. Beyond that, he is concerned that more committee meetings may be opened to the media.
Hanegbi certainly sees the six sessions as a trial run, but stresses that in the meantime, this is "a very calculated experiment." He says the committee members already receive quite a bit of media coverage, and therefore he believes they "will know how to handle themselves" even in front of the cameras.
Dozens of bills are passed during the last week of every Knesset session. One of the more interesting is Kadima MK Otniel Schneller's bill allowing potential draftees to turn to the ombudsman for soldiers' complaints. One of its important results: Youths from the settlements who feel the Israel Defense Forces is discriminating against them because they demonstrated against the disengagement can complain. And in fact, the National Union supported the bill enthusiastically.
Schneller was the director general of the Yesha council of settlements, but he tries to present the bill in a broader manner: "It's purely a bill. I don't propose bills in the context of an event." Schneller explains, "The bill was born at the behest of the soldiers' ombudsman, who appeared before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee." The ombudsman said he was receiving queries from youths "and he didn't have the legal capacity to answer them."
But the right was quick to adopt the bill enthusiastically. MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said in one of the hearings on the bill that in the IDF, every youth with a criminal record - for blocking roads, for example - is sent to the mental health officer. "These kids, their parents and I, too, are going crazy, because we cannot cancel this cursed directive, issued by someone in the Manpower Branch."
Schneller says that right-wing MKs suggested adding a section to the bill expressly barring asking recruits about their political views, and he objected. The army, incidentally, asked to limit the bill to block complaints about professional decisions, such as the quality control group's decision, and this was in fact done. If a draftee fails to get accepted to a flight training course, he can complain only about discrimination or flawed proceedings.
A low for the state
Last week, the Central Bureau of Statistics sent the government an unusual document forecasting the education system demographics in 2011. The document was intended to facilitate a decision on building classrooms, but the truth is that it is a lot more interesting than the decisions based on it.
The figures indicate a big problem for anyone who believes in Zionism. In 2011, only 56 percent of students will attend a school that belongs to the state or national-religious network. Twenty-seven percent of the education system will be Arab (as opposed to 25 percent today), and 17 percent will be ultra-Orthodox (as opposed to the current 14.5 percent).
Currently, 61 percent of students are in state- or national-religious schools. However, in the next five years, the ultra-Orthodox education system will grow by 50,000 students, there will be 55,000 more Arab students, and the state network will drop by 15,000. You don't have to be an outstanding math student to realize that if this process continues, by 2020 the Zionist state network will be a minority.
Education Ministry director general Shmuel Abuav says in response that the state must make strengthening the national-religious school system a strategic goal. To that end, the system's Torah education program must be improved, and to do so they need a long school day. On the other hand, it should be more difficult to open new ultra-Orthodox schools, which draw students from the national-religious schools.
National Religious Party chair MK Zevulun Orlev says the forecast will materialize for the simple reason that it involves children who were already born. "There is great danger facing the Zionist character of Israel," he warns. He says all Israeli governments were aware of this process and did nothing about it.
"The Education Ministry has for years been talking about reinforcing the national-religious education system, but in practice, the ministry only harms it."