Analysis

Outcry Over Jewish Terror Suspect's Rights May Not Help Palestinian Detainees

Axing of Jewish minor's confession puts Israel's court system on dangerous path toward ethnic-based rulings

A protest outside of the Central District Court in favor of the suspects, Rishon LeZion, December 31, 2018.
Meged Gozani

The Central District Court has disqualified the confession by the minor accused of involvement in an arson at a Jerusalem church in 2015 due to the conditions of his interrogation, joining previous such disqualifications. This shows the clear difference in the law enforcement system’s treatment of ours, namely Jews, and the others, Palestinians.

Certain methods are considered routine methods that have been used for decades for tens of thousands of Palestinian detainees, including many minors, like preventing the detainee from meeting with his lawyer. And nobody objects.

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But this unleashes an outcry when it comes to a child of ours. Then all the bleeding hearts protest. Apparently the only way to recognize the rights of others is by impeding our own rights.

Another two characteristics of this investigation, which seeks the suspect’s self-incrimination, are the use of special interrogators who manipulate the suspects, and an absence of full documentation of all stages of the investigation.

Even on the assumption that the use of interrogators who manipulate the suspect into confessing is essential, the impression is that the enforcement agencies believe that the transition from interrogation by people in authority to interrogation by someone whom the suspect believes is not such a person justifies free rein.

The home of the Dawabsheh family following the arson that claimed three lives in 2015.
Reuters
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That is, an atmosphere of fear and helplessness is created around the suspect. He fears for his life if he doesn’t give the interrogators incriminating material about himself.

A common method is that the interrogators actually present themselves as very serious criminals. They “send” the suspect incriminating materials against themselves, such as possession or use of a dangerous drug.

From the moment the suspect possesses such incriminating material against them, he is asked to provide incriminating material about himself to create a balance of fear between the two sides. If he doesn’t do so, the interrogators have good reason to harm him, to ensure that he won’t incriminate them.

The better this game works, and the more the suspect sees the interrogators as common criminals, the easier it is for the suspect to give them information, even false information, against himself, because he isn’t afraid of being incriminated before the authorities.

In other words, a clearly unacceptable means is being used, a threat of danger to one’s life, which deprives the suspect of free will – and that is intolerable in a law-abiding country. The evidentiary value of statements made under these circumstances is very slight.

Clearly there must be distinct boundaries for the activity of these interrogators. The fact that in another case the state prosecutor insisted that the instructions to these interrogators should not be revealed, based on possible damage to state security, is very disturbing.

Does the government want to protect state security or the unreasonable freedom given to the interrogators?

The second characteristic is the strange custom of enforcement agencies to “forget” to document the most critical moments in an interrogation. Here the courts deserve praise for exacting a price for the failure to document. In the absence of documentation, the courts say they are unable to reject the suspect’s version about violence and threats.

But the courts’ efforts have apparently not led to full documentation. It’s strange that even the acquittals resulting from such failures in interrogations don’t deter the investigative agencies.

In recent years the courts, particularly the Central District Court, have repeatedly warned about the absence of full documentation of interrogations and the problems with the interrogators’ efforts. The warnings have been sent to the most senior law enforcement officials.

The impression is that they have fallen on deaf ears. Apparently this is an entrenched organizational culture: The ends justify almost any means.

The truth is, it’s not clear that the “discovery” of the rights of suspects of Jewish terror, as welcome as it is, will also help Palestinian suspects, because for many Israelis these are two entirely different communities.

There may be a beneficial filtering down of decisions regarding Jewish terror suspects to Palestinian terror suspects. But there’s also a danger that instead of one law for everyone, a legal system will become established in which the extent of suspects’ rights is decided based on ethnic origin.