Opinion |

Shin Bet Tortured a Suspected Murderer, but It's Israel's Conscience That Is Sedated

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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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
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This is what Akiva Novick, the parliamentary reporter for Channel 13 news, tweeted in response to Haaretz’s report that the head of the cell suspected of murdering Rina Shnerb was hospitalized in critical condition after being interrogated by the Shin Bet security service: “You say this as if it were a bad thing.”

And this is what Ben-Zion Gopstein, founder of the right-wing organization Lehava, tweeted: “Every terrorist needs to be interrogated to extract all his information, and after that, the sentence is death. It doesn’t matter if he succeeded or only tried [to commit an attack].”

Their broken Hebrew isn’t the only thing they have in common. There are also no ideological differences between the ostensibly decent political reporter and the despised activist. What Gopstein says crudely, Novick says with the eloquence typical of his genre. But the venom he diffuses is far more deadly. And yet, Gopstein is the one who’s considered extreme and illegitimate.

The Shin Bet tortured a suspected murderer almost to death, but Israel is sedated and on a respirator. This small-scale version of the Bus 300 affair, in which the Shin Bet’s murder of two captured hijackers in 1984 provoked a massive outcry, hasn’t even provoked a yawn in the Israel of 2019. And here you have the history of the country’s moral degeneration in a nutshell.

A man was at death’s door from his interrogator’s blows, something that could only happen in Guantanamo and a handful of especially dark and shunned countries. Yet here, the Gopsteins celebrate, the Novicks incite and most of the media barely reports it.

Israel Hayom’s edition on Sunday, the eve of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, made no mention of the detainee who was dying from a beating. And if it isn’t reported, it didn’t happen. Instead, the paper had a moving story about “Israelis who are making the year sweet.”

In Yedioth Ahronoth, a small headline informed us that “the head of a terrorist cell is sedated and on a respirator after a Shin Bet interrogation.” This couldn’t possibly have been covered by a sweeter wrapping. The guy was sedated and put on a respirator. Goldilocks was tired. By chance, this happened after an interrogation. Maybe he got overexcited. Maybe they gave him some apples and honey in honor of the Jewish new year and it turned out he was allergic to these foods.

>> Be quiet, we're torturing | Opinion

But a shocking thing happened in the Shin Bet’s interrogation rooms – one that could have ended in a murder committed in the state’s name, with its permission and authority. The people who planned and perpetrated Shnerb’s murder will be put on trial, but nobody will be punished for what happened during this interrogation; it’s unlikely even to be seriously investigated. And the media will applaud this failure, or at least try to conceal it and make it go away.

None of the reporters who enthusiastically reported Samer Arbid’s capture (“the account has been settled”) have the faintest idea of what his role in the murder actually was. All they know is how to parrot, with a grotesque façade of being knowledgeable, what the Shin Bet dictates to them, regardless of whether or not it’s true.

The suspect, of course, has already become the murderer. Nor will anyone mention where the murder occurred, or the story of how that natural spring, like dozens of others, was violently stolen by settlers under the state’s aegis.

>> 'This place is only for Jews': The West Bank's apartheid springs | Gideon Levy

According to Addameer, a legal aid organization for Palestinian prisoners, Arbid complained to a military judge about chest pains, difficulty swallowing and vomiting, but he wasn’t sent for medical treatment.

The next day, he was brought to the hospital unconscious, suffering from kidney failure, broken bones and other injuries caused by beatings. It’s not hard to imagine what happened in the interrogation room. Or perhaps it’s unbearably hard. Simon, the sensitive Shin Bet investigator from the miniseries “Our Boys,” tortured a bound and helpless detainee almost to death.

“It was a work accident,” they’re telling us now, an operational screw-up. Serious accidents happen, especially when this is the job – cruel, criminal and contemptible, the kind of job we might have thought had already disappeared from the interrogation center in Petah Tikva and its ilk.

Afterward, Arbid’s interrogators went off to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. They undoubtedly talked with each other a bit about the mishap and how they’d explain it to the energetic investigators from the unit that examines interrogees’ complaints. The commanders who allowed them to use torture, the judge who denied treatment to Arbid and the doctor who approved the interrogation also had a Rosh Hashanah sweeter than honey.

In any case, most Israelis think Arbid deserved to die – in a country that boasts of not having a death penalty. It just sometimes interrogates people under torture, without a trial and without anyone even being interested.

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