Top Prosecutor Strikes Request to Seize Television Interview of Terror Suspect

The interviews of two Palestinian suspects were conducted as part of the 'Uvda' investigative series. Prosecutors say parts of the statement by one of the suspects contradicts his testimony

Khalil Nimri in court in Be'er Sheva, November 9, 2017.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A deputy district attorney has withdrawn its request that a television program submit its recorded interview with a former terrorism suspect, after the state prosecutor intervened.

The “Uvda” investigative series had negatively portrayed the roles of the Shin Bet security service and prosecutors in the trial of two Palestinian men who were charged with planning an attack at a hotel in Eilat in 2015.

Ashraf Salaima, 25, and Khalil Nimri, 23, were arrested before the alleged plot was carried out.

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Nimri was acquitted in November 2017. In their verdict, the three judges who heard the case were highly critical of the Shin Bet’s handling of the case.

An episode of “Uvda” that was broadcast three weeks ago also criticized the security services’ role in the investigation.

Three days after the show aired, Yoav Kishon, the deputy district attorney for southern Israel, asked senior prosecutors to obtain additional details from the program’s interview with Salaima.

Prosecutors said that some of Salaima’s statements in the interview contradicted his testimony during his trial.

Public defenders were also asked to comply with Kishon’s request for materials related to the interview.

Both the “Uvda” producers and the public defenders rejected the requests, which were also criticized by prosecutors as extraordinary and liable to violate journalists’ rights.

After State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan’s intervention, Kishon withdrew his requests, saying the sides had “reached an arrangement.”

Nimri was arrested after he aroused the suspicion of a hotel clerk, who identified him as the man who pretended to be a potential guest, asked suspicious questions about hotel guests, entry and exits to and from the hotel and asked to see hotel rooms. These suspicions were reported to the police, who subsequently arrested Nimri.

A few days later the clerk saw Salaima and realized he had made a mistake in identity and informed the police. Salaima was also arrested, but in the meantime Nimri confessed to planning the bombing during questioning by the Shin Bet.

The testimony of the clerk and Nimri’s answers during questioning led Shin Bet investigators to suspect that Nimri had a partner in planning the attack. Salaima also said Nimri was involved in planning the attack, and both were indicted. The charges against Nimri were based almost exclusively on his confession and Salaima’s testimony.

Nimri’s lawyer claimed that his confession was untrue and included details planted by investigators to match their findings – but were later discovered to be mistaken.

Judge Ariel Vago, who headed the panel along with judges Ariel Hazak and Aylon Infeld, ruled that despite Nimri’s confession, there was insufficient evidence to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They ordered his immediate release.

The prosecutors decided to pursue the case against Salaima, and sought to amend the charges against him from conspiracy to assist an enemy in war to revelation of a decision to commit treason.

Prosecutors said in response: “The accused was interviewed for the Uvda program while he was still on trial and provided details in that interview about what happened in the investigation, some of which don’t match his testimony. Since this is material relevant to what the suspect is testifying about, we requested the materials used for the interview that was broadcast. After a review district prosecutors reached the conclusion with the agreement of the state prosecutor that at this stage the accused may be cross-examined without receiving the materials that Uvda was asked to provide, and therefore it was decided to withdraw the request.”