Israel Closes Case Against Shin Bet Agent Who Used Violence on Palestinians

Josh Breiner
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State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan at a ceremony in 2019. The case was closed with his approval.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan at a ceremony in 2019. The case was closed with his approval.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

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The Israeli state prosecutor decided against indicting a Shin Bet security service officer suspected of committing acts of violence against Palestinians, despite testimony by fellow operatives and an army commander as well as the agent’s own admission that he employed unnecessary violence.

The case was closed with the approval of former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. One of the reasons was that investigators concluded he had acted due to “excessive motivation.” In addition, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman had dismissed him.

Haaretz has learned that solid evidence that pointed to unjustified violence had been collected against the accused, including that he destroyed furniture in the home of a Palestinian family and smashing the family car's sunroof. Similar allegations against him had been raised in at least one other case.

According to witnesses, the incident occurred at the beginning of 2018 when the agent, known as “Saban,” arrived in the West Bank village of Umm al-Tut near Jenin with other Shin Bet operatives and Givati Brigade soldiers to arrest a Palestinian suspected of arms dealing.

Head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, in 2019. He removed the officer from service.Credit: Moti Milrod

When Saban learned that the suspect wasn’t home, he took a hammer he found and began destroying furniture, and later damaged a car parked outside. He had hoped that would pressure the family into revealing where the suspect was.

No one stopped Saban at the time, but several days later Shin Bet operatives reported the incident to their superiors. They in turn handed the affair over to the Israel Police, who are responsible for investigations against Shin Bet personnel.

“He told us on the way [to the house] that he would put on a show and that my job was to ‘restrain’ him in front of the family,” a Shin Bet operative who witnessed the incident told investigators.

“At some stage, he started to break things. First, perhaps without noticing, he broke a window next to him with his helmet. That may have been unintentional. They [the family] lied without a moment’s hesitation about where their son was. We had decided that I would restrain him as if I was the good cop. Saban went over to the brother and began shouting at him, and I told him, ‘calm down.’ Saban proceeded to the kitchen as if he were going to question the father and brother when I heard glass breaking. I saw Saban smashing glass with a hammer. There was a dish rack on the counter, which Saban also attacked with the hammer. ... He damaged other things. … Saban went to the car [outside] and tried to break one of the windows, then he hammered at the sunroof and the glass broke. It served no purpose, except to scare the family,” the witness said.

A Givati Brigade major confirmed he saw the incident. “I asked a security guard if it was okay, and he said yes, that it was a pressure tactic. I turned to [Saban], and he said everything was fine and that he was undertaking a ‘procedure.’ I was wrong to let him continue acting like that. After he broke the sunroof, I decided we were done at this house.”

When questioned himself, Saban said: “I wanted to make a little show so that the suspect who was nearby would hear it and turn himself in, or that his family would make him turn himself in. They kept lying about where he was, so I decided to do some damage to the house to pressure them. I thought I would do it by breaking a few things and making a lot of noise.”

“I take full responsibility for my actions. I had never used force on anyone without need,” he added.

In the end, prosecutors decided to close the case and transfer it back to the Shin Bet for disciplinary proceedings. Those ended in a decision to confine Saban to desk work; at the start of 2019, he left the organization.

In response, the Shin Bet confirmed it had handed over the case to the police internal investigations unit. “In view of the investigation’s findings and the opinion of the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the internal investigations chief, it was decided that the Shin Bet employee service would be terminated immediately. The employee has not been employed by the service for two and a half years,” it said in a statement.

However, the 2018 incident was not the only one in which Saban was implicated. Three years earlier, a case was opened against him after his arrest of a Palestinian in Jaba’, near Jenin. Muhammad Abbas claimed that soldiers beat him at the time of his arrest and that a “Captain Saban” took him into a kitchen, punched him and threw dishes at him.

Despite the testimony against Saban, officials decided to close the case due to Abbas’ contradictory versions about who had beat him.

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