The Shin Bet Scandal That Never Died

In the Bus 300 affair, Shimon Peres and Yaakov Neeman, entrusted with enforcing the law, proved in the 1980s how they truly related to the rule of law.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

There are some scandals that refuse to die, either because they are never fully investigated or because those responsible for them never paid the price they should have. The Bus 300 affair of 1984, involving the murder by Shin Bet security service officers of two bus hijackers who had already been apprehended when they were killed - and the subsequent cover-up of the act - falls into the second category. Almost everything was clear at the time, but nonetheless, the case refuses to die because most of those responsible for it were never punished. They never paid the price either through the courts or in the court of public opinion.

And then on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the case was revived when Gidi Weitz exposed some of the court transcripts of the case in Haaretz. Much was already known before this impressive scoop, but one cannot help becoming enraged all over again after reading the description of what happened on the night of April 13, 1984 and in the months of baseless accounts, cover-ups, efforts to silence witnesses, extortion and lies that followed, even 30 years later.

This anger intensifies in light of the fact that almost the only people who did pay the price were those Shin Bet agents who disclosed the case. On the other hand, one of those most heavily involved is none other than our much-admired current president, Shimon Peres. Someone else who meddled in the case is no less than the current justice minister, Yaakov Neeman. These two men, who are now entrusted with enforcing the law, proved then how they truly related to the rule of law. In addition, there was the commander of the murderers of the terrorists, Ehud Yatom, who was even elected to the Knesset after his misdeeds were revealed. Now, as then, in the name of security murder, falsehoods and efforts to silence are tolerated in Israel.

What happened then in the fields of Dir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip and subsequently in the corridors of government and in the Israeli military would not have happened now. After all, who would get all excited now over the killing of two bound terrorists? After hundreds of revolting targeted killings - even if they were not carried out by fracturing skulls with rocks and iron bars as in the Bus 300 incident - the hearts of members of the public have hardened and they have long become inured to these things. No, the Bus 300 affair would not have become a scandal now.

There would no longer be a need for lies and cover-ups. All that would have been necessary would be a statement from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman to the effect that two terrorists had "attempted to attack the soldiers," which most of the military correspondents would have obediently repeated, and that would be the end of the questions. At any rate, the shock that the Bus 300 affair provoked always centered on the cover-up and the lies, and not on the actual murders.

The case should have become part of the civics curriculum in Israel. A kind of mix of mafia and Soviet-style secret police in the leadership of the country not so many years ago is a matter for thorough study in learning about democracy. Long before our children are taken to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron or to Auschwitz, our students need to be taught the true role of the press, as in the Bus 300 case (which was revealed when a photo, showing the captured hijackers alive, was published in a newspaper, in defiance of censorship ). Students ought to learn about the main reasons given by those who attempted to cover up the affair and keep it quiet, such as then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres. They threatened that it could "open a Pandora's box." In order to stifle consideration of the case, the Shin Bet security service even prepared a list of additional murders that had been carried out prior to the Bus 300 affair.

Our children should also be taught (and we should remind ourselves ) that those responsible for the lies and the murders were given a presidential pardon even before they were investigated, just because they were from the Shin Bet. It is also worth remembering that some of those involved in putting together those scandalous pardons are still with us, involved in the leadership of the country and meddling in affairs.

The Route 300 bus that halted on the outskirts of Dir al-Balah never actually stopped. Although it is the custom to pride ourselves on the fact that the Shin Bet has since been aired out, there is insufficient evidence of this. The heads of the Shin Bet would no longer engage in blood libel against a senior IDF officer (as they did then when they falsely implicated then-brigadier-general Yitzhak Mordechai in the murders ), but what about killing a captured terrorist? The Shin Bet's operations are not much more transparent now than they were then and due to the secrecy, both that which is necessary and that which in unnecessary and mistaken, there is insufficient oversight of what is done at the agency.

And even now, almost 30 years later, the names of all those involved in the Bus 300 case have not been released, which is outrageous in itself. And anyone who had a sense then that calling on the prime minister to expel those responsible was like howling at the moon might encounter the same response now. Anyone who paid the price of seeking justice then might also pay a similar price today. The plain fact is that Shin Bet agents Reuven Hazak, Peleg Radai and Rafi Malka, who disclosed the case, were never accorded the honor and recognition they had coming to them. And Peres became president and Neeman justice minister.