Jerusalem Court Indicts Hate Crime Suspects Using Circumstantial Evidence

Shin Bet employing interrogation methods against right-wingers that work with Palestinians - with little success so far.

Emil Salman

A rare scene transpired last week at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court: Arieh Perl and another minor from Kedumim were indicted for carrying out a hate crime in Abu Ghosh. The case was exceptional because they were not caught in the act and never confessed to the offense during the investigation, and the indictment was based solely on circumstantial evidence.

This indictment joins another handed down based on circumstantial evidence at the end of May against three students from the Dorshei Yehudcha Yeshiva high school in Yitzhar for a hate crime committed in Gush Halav in April. There, too, the minors survived the Shin Bet security service’s intensive interrogation without letting out a word.

Shin Bet officials note this development in the war against so-called “Price Tag” attacks with satisfaction. These are the first cases of indictments without confessions since the price tag movement was declared a forbidden association in June 2013. This declaration allows the Shin Bet to issue restraining orders against serious hate-crime suspects from meeting with each other.

Isolation from a lawyer and the outside world, together with the type of intensive pressure that the Shin Bet has been known to utilize in interrogations, is supposed to break the suspect and lead to a confession. This method works well with Palestinians, with few making it through without talking. In contrast, right-wing activists sit for hours in front of their interrogators without saying a word.

The pressure did work once, in February, when Yehuda Landsberg of Havat Gilad confessed he had set fire to a car in an Arab village, together with friends Yehuda Savir and Binyamin Richter. But so far, right-wing activists have been nearly impervious to justice.

The latest indictments reflect a change in the Shin Bet’s strategy against the extremists. Instead of focusing on confessions, it returned to classic police work of collecting small pieces of evidence. What remains to be seen is if the evidence is sufficient for convictions.

A look at the evidence suggests it is mediocre at best and flimsy at worst. A senior enforcement official admitted this week that the evidence is weak, but it’s the best they could get against the suspects, all well known to the Shin Bet. He said the prosecution did not make a principled decision to lower the bar to achieve indictments, and the evidence was examined closely like in any case.

The Honenu organization, which defends nationalist suspects, commented, “It looks like those who exalt maintaining the law are bending the law to trample Jews whose values do not match those of the prosecution heads.”