Editorial

The Shin Bet's Disgrace Veiled in Secrecy

An invasive search of a woman by the organization shows that the security services must tell their people there are orders they should refuse to obey

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan speaks at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, November 3, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Shin Bet security service’s activities in the West Bank are generally carried out under a veil of secrecy. Only on rare occasions are they revealed to the public, and it’s very rare for the public to find out about crimes apparently committed by one of the secret services in the name of national security.

The first criminal investigation ordered by the ombudsman for complaints by people interrogated by the Shin Bet – after more than 1,000 complaints had been closed – attests once again to the need for closer supervision of what Shin Bet agents and members of the other security services do to Palestinians living under the occupation.

The details of the incident, as reported by Haaretz’s Josh Breiner and Yotam Berger on Friday, are shocking. While arresting a Palestinian woman in 2015, a Shin Bet agent ordered soldiers to conduct a vaginal and anal search of the woman, apparently without any justification. Two female soldiers were assigned to conduct this invasive search that no member of the task force appears to have been authorized to make. The search produced nothing but humiliation and offense for the woman arrested.

The humiliated Palestinian filed a complaint, but it was dealt with only in 2017, at the initiative of the head of the ombudsman’s office, Jana Mudzgurishvilly, who managed to locate the woman after she was arrested again. People close to the woman said she feels like a battered woman, a victim of sexual assault, and is afraid her family will find out about the incident, leaving her stigmatized.

But the ones who should be stigmatized are, above all, the Shin Bet agents present who gave the patently illegal order to conduct the search. How is it possible that after such an aberrant incident, the female soldiers and their colleagues went back to their bases and daily routine as if nothing had happened? Why did the female soldiers’ superiors not prevent the search, or at least report this exceptional incident to the high command?

Now that the investigation has ended, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan must indict the people behind this unacceptable search. Nitzan, who wholeheartedly defended the state’s position in a High Court petition accusing the Shin Bet of torture – but lost in a 1999 ruling that restricted what’s done in Shin Bet interrogation rooms – must understand that closing this case would tell members of the security services that it’s okay to carry out orders even when a black flag flies over them, as long as the victims are Palestinians.

At the same time, the army must teach its officers and soldiers that there are orders they should refuse to obey – and an invasive search of a woman’s body for no good reason is one of them.