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Once We Permit Torture, Our Law Will Forever Be Fiction

Zehava Galon
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Palestinians demonstrate for Samer al-Arbeed, a Palestinian arrested on suspicion of leading a terrorist cell and then allegedly tortured, near Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 1, 2019. 
Palestinians demonstrate for Samer al-Arbeed, a Palestinian arrested on suspicion of leading a terrorist cell and then allegedly tortured, near Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 1, 2019. Credit: AFP
Zehava Galon

Judging by the events of the last few days, the Bus 300 affair would never happen nowadays. True, the terrorists who hijacked that bus in 1984 would still wind up murdered after their capture, but no public uproar would ensue over it.

The journalists who uncovered that affair would have been too busy covering negotiations to form a governing coalition. Others would have said this was exactly how the hijacking should have ended.

Majdi Abu Jumma, a suspect in the 1984 Bus 300 hijacking, being led to his death by Shin Bet officers.Credit: Alex Levac

“That’s what I call an investigation after my own heart,” one of them would have written – the same one who once ranted against “delays in justice” in MK Avigdor Lieberman’s corruption case. Another would have explained that the captured men were “ticking bombs,” as Palestinians usually are. A third would have applauded. These responses, too, would garner “likes” on Facebook.

MK Bezalel Smotrich might have celebrated, but most politicians would simply have kept silent in their own way – that is, by finding some less tainted issue to discuss.

The Shin Bet security personnel responsible for the murders would already be back home, washing their hands and privately wondering how an old man could be made of so much blood.

For years now, the right has been blathering about pretrial rights – about the right to a pre-indictment hearing and its new and improved sister, the right to a hearing on live television. Smaller intellects lament that the hearing will be held on a Jewish fast day, the Fast of Gedaliah.

A cabinet meeting was cut short over the bugs in Nir Hefetz’s prison cell before the former adviser agreed to turn state’s evidence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And of course, there was a general mobilization against the torture of Jews suspected of torching to death a Palestinian couple and their year-old baby in the West Bank town of Duma.

This week, a healthy Palestinian man entered a Shin Bet interrogation session and left in critical condition. The man is suspected of involvement in the horrific murder of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb. But the right has been silent. A Palestinian man doesn’t have the right of presumed innocence, nor does he have the right to a pre-indictment hearing. He doesn’t even have the right to leave the interrogation room in one piece. It’s not the hypocrisy that’s so discouraging.

Samer Arbid, the key suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb.

The state can separate a man from his entire world and isolate him in a small cell for the rest of his life. That’s a terrifying power, which demands thousands of restrictions and redoubled caution. And the state’s power over Palestinians is even greater; they don’t even have the right to stand trial.

Yet how does the political bloc that has been in power for a decade respond to this? With the same tired routine of spin, dubious justifications and zero interest. Is it really necessary to remind journalists that bureaucracies tend to cover for themselves?

Rina Shnerb, 17, who was killed in a West Bank attack in August 2019.

That members of the security services also lie? Is it really necessary to remind people of how the defense establishment found a Palestinian to confess to kidnapping Niv Asraf, even though no such kidnapping ever took place?

Torture is the most terrible power possible to allow any state to wield. A man is taken to a room in the presence of just a few other people who serve as both prosecutors and judges, and nobody knows what will happen.

Maybe he’ll die there. Maybe he’ll no longer be able to walk like a normal human being, or to eat, or to sleep. He hasn’t been put on trial. He hasn’t had a chance to defend himself. Somebody made a decision, and now he’s there. Maybe he’s guilty. Maybe he’s there by mistake. Who knows?

>> This Palestinian terror suspect is no saint. But something went wrong in Israel's interrogation of him | Analysis

Once we permit torture, we can talk about a state governed by the rule of law from now until next year; we can lie about rights, cite court rulings, respect the High Court of Justice or scorn it.

But our law will forever be fiction, a mask we don so we can walk among civilized people, while in our basements, with our permission, our agents are destroying a human body. And don’t tell me it’s being done to protect me.

The Shin Bet has a network of informers, a generous budget, sophisticated monitoring technology and information gathered over the course of years. Its agents beat people up because we let them, because it’s easier than investigating, and because if it turns out to be a mistake, it’s not so terrible. He’s only a Palestinian, and nobody cares about them anymore.

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