The Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s Office announced Wednesday it was dropping charges against three of six Arab residents of Jaffa who were indicted about six months ago for involvement in the assault and attempted murder in the city of a soldier during Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip. Two of the three men had been jailed for four months; the third had been in custody for three months.
Security camera footage showed that the three men were not at the scene at the time of the incident. Charges against a fourth defendant were also dropped.
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A few of the six accused men had confessed to the offenses of which they were accused during interrogation by the Shin Bet security service, but later retracted their confessions. Their claim that they were not at the scene was proved only when their lawyer obtained documentation from the security camera at the site.
The Shin Bet has recently increased its interrogation of Israeli citizens. This was not the first case in which Palestinians as well as Israeli citizens, mainly Arabs, were prosecuted on the basis of their confessions to the Shin Bet, which were generally extracted using violence and dubious interrogation methods. One may guess that were it not for the video, the four defendants would have been convicted and sentenced to many years in prison. They were lucky.
But the thought of what takes place in the Shin Bet’s interrogation rooms that leads innocent people to confess to crimes they did not commit should keep all Israelis awake at night, particularly in light of the plan to involve the Shin Bet in the fight against crime in Arab communities.
False convictions are not only an appalling injustice. They allow the real criminals to roam free. In an interview to Sheren Falah Saab (Haaretz Hebrew, Nov. 4), criminologist Hagit Lernau of the Public Defender’s Office warned against the danger of developing conceptions of punishment for Jews and for Arabs, as part of the war on crime in Israel’s Arab communities.
“The current crisis gives the police a springboard and very offensive powers. ... This should worry everyone.” This is even more pertinent regarding the Shin Bet’s interrogation techniques.
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The soldier’s assailants must of course be brought to judgment, but innocent civilians must not be forced to confess to crimes they did not commit in the name of high crime-clearance rates. The Jaffa incident should be a bright warning light: No to conviction at any cost, and no to Shin Bet involvement in fighting crime.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.