After Years of Failures Against Jewish Terrorism, Shin Bet Believe They Have Rounded Up All Main Actors

Latest exposure of cell suspected of attacking Palestinians caps series of successes for Israeli law enforcement, but it's yet to be seen if upcoming release of terror-ring mastermind won't bring new spate of attacks.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Hate graffiti sprayed on a home at the Palestinian village of Beitillu, October, 2015,
Hate graffiti sprayed on a home at the Palestinian village of Beitillu, October, 2015,Credit: Nasser Shiyoukhi / AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Shin Bet security service attributed the arrest of seven people suspected of attacking Palestinians in the West Bank to information obtained while investigating other right-wing extremists, including the alleged perpetrators of last summer’s deadly arson attack on the Dawabsheh family in Duma.

Most of the current suspects are from the settlement of Nahliel, and several are relatives of Rabbi Yigal Shendrofi, a disciple of the extremist Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh. But they seem to have been influenced more by a group of younger radicals led by Meir Ettinger who are even more extreme than Ginsburgh. Ettinger, who is currently in administrative detention, advocates terror against Palestinians in the hope of sowing chaos that will bring down the State of Israel.

The suspects frequently visited outposts where Ettinger’s followers lived and were evidently influenced by his ideas. But their attempts to attack Palestinians escalated after the Duma suspects were arrested.

Investigators suspect them of throwing a tear gas grenade into a Palestinian home in December in the hope of causing a fire and casualties. But they believe the attack also had two other goals – obstructing the Duma investigation by making the Shin Bet and the police believe the people arrested for that crime weren’t the real murderers, and sending a symbolic message that the fire of Ettinger’s rebellion was still burning.

Unlike in the Duma case, the Shin Bet had no need to employ special interrogation tactics – aka torture – to get the latest suspects to confess. Perhaps this is because investigators already had plenty of evidence against them. But it seems likely that it’s also due to the aggressive tactics used in the Duma probe: Facing the threat of torture – and especially given the way the far-right rumor mill has exaggerated the tactics employed – the current suspects hastened to confess.

The arrest of the suspects from Nahliel caps a series of recent successes against Jewish extremists by the Shin Bet and the police following years of failures. Not only are the Duma suspects standing trial, but indictments have been filed in several arson attacks against mosques and churches. One Jewish extremist, Ettinger, is in administrative detention; 31 are either under house arrest or subject to orders barring them from the West Bank; and almost 20 are in jail, either awaiting trial or having already been convicted.

The Shin Bet and the Israel Prison Service are now debating whether to put all Jewish terror suspects in a single cellblock – not a question they’ve had to face before, since the number of suspects and convicts was too low. The Shin Bet believe the people who actually committed attacks have now been rounded up, while more marginal members of the group – those who haven’t been sentenced to prison – have been served with orders barring them from entering certain locales or making contact with each other, in an effort to make it harder for them to plan new attacks. Anyone caught violating these orders will be jailed.

Meir Ettinger, the alleged head of a group of Jewish extremists, appearing in an Israeli court, August 2015. Credit: AFP

The recent successes have apparently bolstered the Shin Bet’s deterrence against far-right extremists. But the story is far from over. In June, Ettinger’s administrative detention will end, and it’s doubtful the courts will agree to extend it. The question is whether his release will lead to renewed terrorist activity despite the recent arrests and trials.

Another issue raised by the latest probe is the involvement of soldiers in Jewish terror. An officer and a soldier, both doing their compulsory service in the Nahal Haredi battalion, were arrested in this case. One is suspected of stealing weaponry from the Israel Defense Forces and the other of more indirect involvement in the crimes to which his relatives have confessed.

This isn’t the first time, or the second or third, that soldiers from this battalion have been suspected of such crimes. The battalion is part of a flagship IDF project to integrate ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army. But it has also served as a refuge for dozens of marginal youth from the settlements; so-called hilltop youth who prefer to serve in a unit without women. Under the army’s nose, it has become a hothouse of right-wing extremism. Senior IDF officers are well aware of this, but it seems that dealing with the problem will require closer coordination between the army and the Shin Bet.

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