In Israel, Attorneys Decry 'Postponed Justice' When It Comes to Jewish Terror Suspects

Lawyers of the suspects in politically motivated crimes assert that the Shin Bet is denying legal counsel to their clients as a matter of course.

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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One Orthodox right-wing teen is tethered to a metal bed frame with his face covered by a black scarf as part of a protest against the Shin Bet torturing Jewish prisoners, Tel Aviv, December 23, 2015.
One Orthodox right-wing teen is tethered to a metal bed frame with his face covered by a black scarf as part of a protest against the Shin Bet torturing Jewish prisoners, Tel Aviv, December 23, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

Last summer A., then a minor, was arrested on suspicion of setting on fire a tent that served as a storage space for a Bedouin family in the northern West Bank. The arson damaged property, but no one was hurt. The Shin Bet interrogated him intensively for eight days after his arrest before he was allowed to see a lawyer.

“They take you to a kind of basement, with dark, small cells. They don’t tell you what you are suspected of,” A. told Haaretz. “Afterward, they take me upstairs, blindfold me and take me to the interrogation room. They tie me behind my back to a chair. And then a Shin Bet interrogator sits across from me, lowers the blindfold and tells me: ‘As you understand, you are under Shin Bet interrogation. You will receive medications. You can shower, but we can prevent you if we want. There is usually a chance of consulting with a lawyer, but we decided not to give you that opportunity.”

Dvir Kariv, a former field agent who served 22 years in the Shin Bet’s Jewish Division, asserts that denying a meeting with a lawyer “is a tool only used out of lack of choice.” A Haaretz investigation reveals that in its war on Jewish terror, the Shin Bet has turned denying meetings with lawyers into a norm, with dozens of Jews suspected of political crimes being denied legal counsel in recent years, a statistic law enforcement bodies have hidden.

Two Sundays ago, Moshe Yinon Ben Amit Oren of the Givat Ronen Arusi outpost was arrested and taken for Shin Bet interrogation. Not only were the suspicions against him immediately forbidden from publication but also the very arrest itself. Oren, 18, was interrogated for four days in a Shin Bet facility in Petah Tikva before he was allowed legal counsel. He was completely cut off those four days, not even receiving an explanation of his rights.

Last week, the gag order on his case was lifted and Oren was indicted. The prosecution accuses him of endangering human life in a traffic lane because he shot a metal marble with an air gun at a Palestinian taxi, tearing a hole in its back windshield. No one was injured, and his lawyers claim if he weren’t a settler no one would have dared think of preventing Oren from meeting with a lawyer, a serious violation of his rights as a subject of interrogation.

A Haaretz investigation indicates that this practice of denying counsel bears no connection to the gravity of the suspected crime. According to the law, a detainee has the right to legal counsel without delay. Denying the meeting is based on a section of the arrest law allowing security force personnel to deny a suspect of security offenses from meeting a lawyer for up to 10 days, if the meeting would interfere with the arrest of other suspects, interfere with discovering or obtaining evidence, disrupt the investigation some other way or to prevent a further crime or save a life. Withholding legal counsel more than 10 days requires approval by the president of the district court and of the attorney general.

A file photo shows attorney Itamar Ben Gvir with a client suspected of carrying out a political crime at court last year. Credit: Gil Eliahu

However, according to lawyers representing Jews suspected of political crimes, denying legal counsel has become the default since 2012.

“It is a regular ritual,” says attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, who has represented several security suspects. Attorney Yitzhak Bam, who has represented many Israelis suspected of political offenses, says, “In recent years everything more than giving a flat tire ends up in arrest without a lawyer.” He says some detainees are denied counsel up to three weeks. “I’d say there are 20 such detainees per year,” he says. “Israel is perhaps the only Western country that prevents a meeting between a minor suspect and a lawyer.”

Concealed secret

Shin Bet and Justice Ministry officials asserted in reaction to an inquiry from Haaretz that they do not have statistics on how many Palestinians and Israelis are prevented from seeing a lawyer after their arrest in recent years. They are not sure that it is true. When the Movement for Freedom of Information and Yesh Din petitioned the High Court of Justice in 2009 demanding to reveal the statistics, the security services refused on the assertion that revealing it would endanger state security.

“The detailed explanation of the authorities convinced me that accepting the petition, either broadly or narrowly, was liable to open a small window that in the end and unintentionally would somehow help enemy forces seeking to hurt the state,” wrote Justice Neal Hendel in the decision to keep the data secret.

However, a Haaretz investigation found that it is almost impossible to find Jews who were arrested of suspected political crimes and immediately received legal counsel. Seven such suspects were arrested at the beginning of 2016 for crimes such as torching vehicles and throwing a firebomb into a home. The Shin Bet interrogated all seven and five were prevented from seeing their lawyer for over a week. The three suspects in torching a car in Yafiyya in July also were denied a lawyer, in their case for three days.

“In other words, they prevent the meeting until the suspects confess,” says their lawyer, Lior Bar Zohar. In these two cases, serious indictments were filed, but it’s not always the case.

A youth arrested in the Duma case in November was denied a lawyer for 18 days. He was eventually indicted, but for something else, attacking a Palestinian in 2014. His lawyer, Sinaya Harizi-Mozes, says this affair arose in his investigation only because of the difficult conditions under which he was held, and because he was denied a lawyer for so long.

Even in less severe cases, like setting tires on fire or graffiti, actions described as “price tag” attacks, the security services tend to deny suspects their lawyers before interrogating them. For example, in the investigation of a hate crime in Abu Ghosh in 2013, during which dozens of cars had their tires slashed and sprayed with anti-Arab slogans, security forces prevented two suspects from meeting their lawyer. One of them, according to his attorney, was cut off form legal counsel for an entire week. Only one of the two was eventually indicted.

It’ll drive you crazy

‘A’ says on lacking a lawyer by his side: “You don’t know what to say that won’t hurt yourself. Even if you didn’t do anything they can do what they want with you.” He thinks the goal of preventing the meeting is to generate mental pressure. “They can tell you what they want – you have nothing else,” he says. “A lawyer basically would tell you they are lying. For example, when they say that everyone confessed and only you didn’t.”

He describes the interrogations as irrelevant and humiliating. One of the interrogators, he says, “came and sat across from me. He started caressing my ears. ‘You are going to enjoy yourself here, I will drive you mad.’ It is questions and debasing – ‘you are a sick person,’ like that. Ninety percent of the interrogation is not really relevant to the file but rather threats. ‘You will be in jail 20 years, we won’t leave you your entire life, even after you get out of jail. We will take you out crazy from this room, we broke all the greatest terrorists, you are a child of 17 and you, too, will break. Don’t worry, you are like a joke.’”

Lacking legal counsel, the detainees are liable to believe the false threats and confess, even to things they did not do.

“I personally believed every word,” says A. “They also explain to you why what they say is logical, as if it were the truth. You believe everything.” He met with a lawyer after eight days. He was released that day and returned for a number of interrogations. He was never indicted in the affair.

Security officials assert that denying a meeting with a lawyer is done methodically and carefully. “The Duma story is an excellent example of this,” says Kariv. In this affair, according to him, the permits for interrogating without a lawyer “were given just a day or two before there was an additional attack.”

Kariv recalls: “While the detainees were in jail, being interrogated, there was a similar attack, only there the father managed to get the child out in time. It probably means that they went to the court, and said that there is intelligence that there is going to be another incident, and the fact is there was a similar incident. They knew what they were talking about.”

According to him, the fact that in the end indictments were filed against some of those who were interrogated for less severe offenses does not mean that there was no reason to deny them a lawyer. “We can agree that there is no need when it comes to graffiti,” he says. “But, sometimes you know that the infrastructure that did the graffiti plans to do something else, much more violent the indictment is in line only with what you manage to prove in order to bring the case to court. I know about people who murdered, who go around free and are arrested periodically for incitement or graffiti. Does that mean they are not dangerous?”

The Shin Bet commented: “The Shin Bet interrogations are conducted according to the law, with close supervision by the state prosecutor and subject to broad judicial review by the court. The authority to postpone a meeting of the security detainee with his lawyer, for a limited time, is required in investigating suspects for security offenses, with the goal of preventing terrorist acts.

"Every decision regarding postponing a meeting between the suspect for security offenses and his lawyer is made after making deep consideration, and subject to legal opinions. Exercising authorities is done in line with the reasons set by law, and it is subject to judicial review, as is done in the cases mentioned in the article. Moreover, in every investigation mentioned in your inquiry, the detainees’ lawyers submitted a petition against postponing the meeting, and the court rejected the appeal, and thus confirmed that there were no flaws in the investigators’ considerations.”

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