Condition of Palestinian Terror Suspect 'Tortured' in Shin Bet Interrogation Improves

Military judge says Samer Mina Salim Arbid, arrested for an attack that claimed the life of a 17-year-old Israeli, should be able to resume questioning 'in coming days'

A Palestinian woman holds up a sign during a demonstration for Samer Arbid, near the Hadassah Medical Center Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, October 1, 2019.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

The condition of a Palestinian terror suspect who was hospitalized after undergoing interrogation at the hands of Israel's Shin Bet security service is improving, a medical document obtained by Samer Mina Salim Arbid's legal counsel said Wednesday.

Arbid's legal counsel petitioned the Yehuda Military Court to release him from Shin Bet custody due to the state of his health on Wednesday, but a military judge rejected the request, saying that he should be ready "in the coming days" to resume interrogations.

She instructed that investigators involved in the case immediately hand over medical materials related to Arbid to the defense, and added that "the dangers of the suspect to the security of the area are clear, and require his remand continue at this point."

Arbid is suspected of leading the West Bank attack that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb in August.

The judge added, however, that in light of the suspect's medical state, those involved in the interrogation and the Israeli Prison Service should allow Arbid's sister and to visit him, and his wife to visit him once more. 

On Thursday, the court is expected to hear a request to extend Arbid's remand. Red Crescent representatives visited Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus on Wednesday afternoon to examine Arbid's condition and provide his wife with an updated report on his health.

Arbid, 44, was hospitalized in critical condition Saturday evening after undergoing interrogation with the Israeli internal security service. Arbid's lawyer, Mahmoud Hassan said he had "undergone severe torture," adding that Arbid is on a respirator at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem and "suffered broken ribs and kidney failure."

A source familiar with the details said over the weekend that the Shin Bet received approval from a legal official to use exceptional means in Arbid's interrogation, over the course of which, Arbid took a blow and was evacuated to the hospital out of substantial fear for his life. 

According to the source, Arbid was first arrested about two weeks ago, but due to legal difficulties in extending his custody, he was released. The head of the PFLP cell was arrested again last week after security services received new information that Arbid was in possession of an explosive. His interrogation and hospitalization have caused tension among security services; those involved agree that Arbid was in good health when he was arrested.    

The Justice Ministry's inspector for complaints against the security agency said it would look into how his interrogation was conducted and what level of violence was used. The ministry added that the inspector would also look at medical reports from the hospital he was transferred to, in a bid to ascertain his situation and the level of injuries he sustained as a result of the interrogation.

The inspector would then file his recommendations with the State Prosecutor's Office and the attorney general, who would decide whether to launch a criminal investigation into the Shin Bet officers involved.

Arbid, who is known to be a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Ramallah, was arrested by the Shin Bet last week along with three other members of the cell alleged to be behind the August attack.

The PFLP said that "Israel bears full responsibility for Arbid's situation," warning that if Arbid's life is put in danger, their response will be "painful and appropriate," challenging Israel to not test the "resistance's ability to reach any target."

Arbid has thus far been barred from meeting with lawyers, his legal counsel says, and the details of his case are under gag order. His attorneys said that he was healthy when he entered police custody, but police notified them he had been transferred to the hospital without specifying the reasons.

The Shin Bet confirmed in a statement that the Justice Ministry was handling the investigation.

Regarding his hospitalization, the Shin Bet said in a statement released on Saturday evening: "During the investigation of the head of the terror cell responsible for the attack on the Ein Buvin spring that killed Rina Shnerb, the investigator reported that he did not feel well. According to procedure, he was transferred to the hospital for medical examinations and treatment. No other details can be provided."

Rina Shnerb was killed near the West Bank settlement of Dolev by an explosive device that was detonated as she was hiking along the Ein Buvin spring in August. Her father Eytan and her brother Dvir were wounded moderately and seriously, but survived.

The Shin Bet announced earlier Saturday that it had arrested the four Palestinian members of the cell behind the attack, all members of PFLP, and that they are suspected of carrying out other attacks in the West Bank. 

The PFLP said Sunday that Israel had arrested dozens of their operatives in different locations throughout the West Bank overnight. The organization added that they would not allow the wave of arrests to stop their activities.

"We are committed to the path of resistance and it will increase until the Palestinian volcano erupts in the face of the occupation and the settlers," the statement said.

Arbid was detained several times in the past over his involvement in terror activities, especially during the second Intifada. He was wanted by Israel for several years and was at helm of the group. According to Shin Bet, he prepared the explosive device and detonated it once he saw the Shnerb family arriving at the spring.