A gag order was lifted on Wednesday on the recent arrests of seven members of a Jewish terrorist group suspected of attacking Palestinians across the West Bank.
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The group includes six settlers and an Israeli soldier, and the Shin Bet and Israel Police believe the suspects were inspired by the deadly firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Duma in late July, which killed three members of the same family and wounded a fourth.
After the Shin Bet announced the lifting of the gag order, Military Police arrested an officer who had been interrogated twice in recent months for being involved with the group, Honenu, an non-profit organization that provides legal aid to right-wing activists. The officer is the brother of some of the detained suspects.
The suspects admitted to “widespread terrorist activity,” the Shin Bet said in a statement, “including attempted terrorist attacks on homes of Palestinians while the occupants were inside, attacking minorities, arson and vandal assaults on Palestinian vehicles, and stone throwing from a passing car at Palestinian vehicles.”
The Shin Bet said most of the suspects being questioned are residents of the West Bank settlement of Nahliel, among them members of the Shendrofi family of 17 children. Yigal Shendrofi, the father, is a rabbi identified with the extreme right.
Among the suspects from Nahliel are two minors, aged 16 and 17, and a 19-year-old IDF soldier, whose identity has been barred from publication under a Military Court order. Two other suspects, Itamar Ben Aharon and Michael Kaplan, both in their 20s, are also from Nahliel. Another suspected cell member is Pinhas Shendrofi, 22, of Kiryat Arba.
The suspects' most serious offense, officials say, was tossing a tear gas grenade into the home of a Palestinian family in December. The head of the Palestinian household was awakened by irritation to his eyes from the gas but managed to get the baby out of the house in time to avoid any injury.
Military Police arrested a soldier from the Netzah Yehuda battalion on suspicion of supplying the cannister. The soldier has refused to answer questions but others have implicated him as allegedly taking part in the incident.
The suspects were also said to have admitted to throwing firebombs at a Palestinian home in Mazraa al-Qabliyah. The firebombs struck a window without penetrating the home. The word "revenge" was found scrawled on the outside of the home.
In October, cell members allegedly torched a Palestinian vehicle in revenge for a terrorist attack in which two residents of the settlement of Neria, Naama and Eitam Henkin, were killed. The suspects are also accused of torching a vehicle in 2014 and assaulting a 60-year-old Palestinian man who sustained moderate wounds.
"This is a positive sign that the security forces are taking Jewish terrorism against Palestinians seriously," Rabbis for Human Rights said in response, adding that there were still other cases of abuses of Palestinians that haven't yet been addressed.
"Unlike the sorts of attacks that attract greater media coverage, there have been dozens of attacks of Palestinian farmers and incidents in which [they] are being removed from their lands we see a clear incompetence on the part of security forces and sometimes even direct or indirect assistance to the attackers," the statement said.
The human rights group added that inappropriate measures were being used against the suspects, such as denying them legal counsel. "Even a positive step cannot rely on improper procedures," RHR's statement said.
Aharon Roza, a lawyer for Honenu, a group which provides assistance to Jews accused of using violence against Palestinians, said that "contrary to all kinds of rumors and quasi-reports, the vast majority of the offenses investigated in this case involve no harm to human life."
Roza also alleged he had been denied access to his clients.
"Regardless of the type of offenses investigated, this system of preventing contact with a lawyer in every investigation designated as a security-related investigation is not proper and not right," Roza said.
"In retrospect, when I meet with the clients, the moment that it is advised that contact is prohibited, I see there had been no real reason to prevent the contact beyond exerting very severe pressure on those being investigated, who are isolated from their lawyers and became prisoners at the hands of their interrogators.”