Justice Official Admits 'Extraordinary' Interrogation Measures Used in West Bank Arson Case

Judicial oversight is in place for all stages of the investigation, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri says.

The interior of the torched house of the Dawabsheh family in Duma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, December 3, 2015.
Moti Milrod

Extraordinary measures have been used in questioning the suspects who are in custody in connection to the fatal arson attack in the West Bank this summer, the deputy attorney general for criminal law told a Knesset Committee on Monday.

Three Jewish Israelis who were arrested in late November are being questioned by the Shin Bet security service over possible involvement in the July fire-bomb attack in the Palestinian village of Duma that killed three members of the Dawabsheh family.

Speaking to a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee debating the extension of a temporary order preventing security suspects from meeting with their lawyers, Raz Nizri said the measures were approved by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and had judicial oversight.

In a conversation with Haaretz, Nizri said the extraordinary measures included waiting more than 48 hours before bringing suspects before a judge and the extension of their detention period in absentia.

The questioning does not take place in the dead of night, and no one is being disappeared, Nizri told the committee members. All the actions are overseen by the prosecutors office, some were approved by the attorney general.

Nizri argued that there is evidence showing that the Shin Bet makes considered and restrained use of the provisions of the temporary order, employing them only under special circumstances in order to prevent danger to life and limb. The balance between harm to human life and the right of a suspect to meet with an attorney is a proper balance, Nizri said.

The Dawabsheh family home was torched on July 31, immediately killing 18-month-old Ali and critically wounding his mother, father and brother. The mother, Reham, and father, Saad, have since died. The only surviving member of the nuclear family, Ahmed, 4, remains in serious condition at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv.

Vengeance and long live the Messiah were painted on the walls of the home and nearby houses, and an empty house nearby was also set on fire. An eyewitness reported seeing four men flee toward the settlement of Maaleh Efraim. The military declared the incident an act of Jewish terror. On Sunday, the Supreme Court approved a Shin Bet request to continue preventing the three suspects from meeting with their lawyers.

By law, the head of a Shin Bet investigative team can prevent a suspect from meeting with a lawyer for up to 10 days. A district court judge can extend the period to 21 days, after which there is no legal basis for prohibiting a meeting.

The detainees lawyers petitioned the High Court, demanding that they be allowed to meet with their clients. They argued that the suspects do not constitute an immediate threat, a ticking bomb, as they put it. The Shin Bet, in turn, stressed the great importance of preventing the meetings in light of the seriousness of the offenses attributed to the appellants. The court accepted the security services argument. In the decision, which was published on the courts website, Justice Salim Joubran wrote that he was persuaded, based on his review of classified materials, of the continued need to deny the suspects access to legal counsel in order not to obstruct the investigation.