'The Shin Bet Breaks You. You'd Be Insane Not to Give a False Confession'

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Izat Nafsu.
Izat Nafsu.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Hello – Izat Nafsu?

Yes.

Hello, Nir Gontarz here, a journalist with Haaretz. How are you?

Fine.

Listen a minute. Do you remember that during Operation Guardian of the Walls [last May] there were disturbances in Israel – that Jews and Arabs attacked one another?

Yes.

In that context the Shin Bet [security service] arrested two Arabs on suspicion of attacking a soldier in Jaffa, got them to confess to attacking the soldier, and very serious charges were brought against them. But after they had spent four months in detention, a video was found that proved that, despite their confessions in Shin Bet interrogation rooms, they had not been part of the attack and had arrived on the scene only after the attack was over. A false confession. And I remembered you.

In the past you were dubbed the “Circassian Dreyfus,” and I want you to tell me, if you’ll agree, what it is to be in an interrogation like that, and why people who are innocent confess to the Shin Bet about things they didn’t do. That’s what happened to you. The Shin Bet invented stuff about you, lied in court, and you were convicted and spent seven-and-a-half years in prison, even though you had done nothing. You were an outstanding Israel Defense Forces officer and they accused you of spying for Lebanon. In the end, in 1987, the state retracted the indictment against you, which was based solely on your confession.

Okay, it’s a bit of a long story…

I know.

I will give you the gist. I will tell you the following: Not to confess, even if you didn’t do anything, in a Shin Bet interrogation, is to be insane, let’s put it like that. Anyone who is capable of hanging on and not giving a false confession has to be insane.

Why?

They break you mentally.

Izat, I’m sorry you went through that, and it’s painful to listen to you, even though a long time has passed since you were arrested in 1980.

They broke me mentally. During the first and second days, they study you. They discover your weak points and that’s where they attack you.

And physically?

With me there was also physical force, but not so much. There were humiliations, there were other tortures.

Such as?

Sleep deprivation. A cold shower. They don’t let you rest. They wear you down completely. Including various types of threats. In the end they break you mentally.

And then you confess to something you didn’t do?

The only thing you want for yourself is to get them off your back.

Yes.

You make your considerations, which of course are very much mistaken, and believe that “there are judges in Israel,” and God is great, and that everything will come to light in the courts.

The judges convicted you on the basis of your confession.

Yes. In short, you say, “If this is what you want, I will confess.” In my case, they had nothing in hand. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, except testimony from some Lebanese guy, very, very dubious.

Yes.

Ginossar decided for some reason that I was guilty, and he got on my case.

The late Yossi Ginossar, who was head of the team that had interrogated you, and who would be part of the Shin Bet’s conspiracy against the commissions of inquiry in the No. 300 bus affair.

Yes, yes, yes.

When you maintained in court that you had been abused, he lied again, like in the No. 300 bus affair, and claimed they hadn’t done anything to you.

Yes. Not only him. He made all the interrogators lie and go in cahoots with him.

Apropos the case of the accused who were released earlier this month, it looks like almost nothing has changed in the Shin Bet.

What do you think? Obviously not, even though they set up commissions, including the Landau Commission.

Yes. It was only in the wake of your terrible case, and in all the commissions, that it emerged that the Shin Bet both abuses and tortures, and lies in court.

A decision was made to have [external] supervision of Shin Bet interrogations, but they always left openings. “With reasonable force” and “only after authorization,” and all that stuff and nonsense. It’s all “as if,” and only for the sake of external appearances. Internally everything is the same. They prevent… It’s all in the name of sacred state security.

Yes.

They allow themselves to do anything, and are not committed to keeping an interrogation transcript. Nothing at all. They have a free hand. It’s the Israel Police that file the indictment afterward. Not them [the Shin Bet]. They are part of the prosecution, but they are not the ones doing the prosecuting. They have no commitment toward anyone. They do whatever they want to you, and they extract the confessions from you.

Like in the recent case.

And only when you reach…

If a video hadn’t been discovered in this recent case, the defendants would have been convicted and spent years in prison. Do you think that Shin Bet interrogators still lie to judges?

I think they do. Did you think I think otherwise? I am not all that naïve. I used to be naïve.

Do cases like this recent one take you back in time to that period?

No. Listen, almost 40 years have passed. I don’t live that past.

How so?

I have a strong repression mechanism. I live my life.

How old are you now?

I’ll be 67 soon.

Hats off to you for succeeding, after everything, in remaining sane in the face of the Shin Bet, and hats off for waging the war for the truth. Thanks to you, the life of citizens here has improved a bit. Until your case, the Shin Bet was a black hole in terms of the public consciousness. No one imagined back then that they lied to the courts at every level.

The aspiration is for people to be more aware. At least the media is more active than in the past. When I was arrested, all the papers knew.

But there was censorship.

No one even dared to hint that there was something. Today the censors have no choice.

Yes. What do you do nowadays?

I’m still working in the factory at [Kibbutz] Sha’ar Hagolan. Process engineering. I have worked there since I was released.

Thanks, Izat, for sharing with me.

Don’t mention it.

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