Israel's Justice Ministry Investigating Palestinian Suspect's 'Torture' by Shin Bet Officers

Governmental inspector to look into possible excessive use of force in interrogation after suspect in Israeli teen's killing hospitalized

Israeli soldiers searching for suspects following an attack near the settlement of Dolev, West Bank, August 23, 2019.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The Israeli Justice Ministry has launched an investigation into potential wrongdoing by Shin Bet officers in the interrogation of a Palestinian man arrested for the killing of an Israeli teen in August, it said Sunday in a statement.

44-year-old Samer Mina Salim Arbid has been hospitalized in critical condition after undergoing interrogation with the Israeli internal security service. The Justice Ministry's inspector for complaints against the Israel security agency would look into how his interrogation was conducted and what level of violence was used.

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."

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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 on Saturday, along with three other members of the cell reported to be behind the attack that killed 17-year-old Israeli teen Rina Shnerb in August.

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."

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called for an immediate investigation into the Shin Bet's interrogation of Arbid. "Israel's moral character can be observed from the basement of the Shin Bet's interrogation," the head of the association's legal department, attorney Oded Feller, said.

"And in the darkness of the rooms we cannot forget the necessity of controlling our urges." He added, "Figures of the law are not authorized to torture detainees, no matter the severity of the suspicions against them. Cruel and inhumane means of interrogation are categorically forbidden." 

Hamas also responded to news of Arbid's hospitalization. "The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cell gave a ringing slap to the face of Israel's security infrastructure. Israel bears responsibility for the condition of the detainee Samer Arbid," said a statement from the organization. "Resistance forces will continue the fight, and the flames of resistance will grow despite the occupation and security coordination" between the Palestinian authority and Israel, the statement continued.

Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh also responded to the incident. "The occupation authorities intentionally injure [Palestinian] prisoners, neglect them and fail to provide them with medical treatment," he said on Monday, claiming that the Shin Bet intended to execute Arbid.

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.

Arbid is known to be a senior member of the PFLP in Ramallah, and was detained several times in the past over his involvement in terror activites, 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. 

Netael Bandel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.