As the result of an Israeli gagging order being partially lifted, it has been revealed that five Jewish teenagers from a yeshiva in the disputed territories have been accused of the murder of a Palestinian woman, Aisha Rabi.
This was a heinous and appalling crime. Rabi, the mother of nine children, was killed last October when a rock was hurled at her car.
Lawyers for the five teenagers claim that the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, used torture and ill-treatment against the boys who the lawyers say are innocent and have an alibi, and that the gag order has been lifted only because the case against them is crumbling.
We don’t yet know, therefore, whether or not these boys committed this murder. It would be appalling, however, if they had done so.
Time and again, Israeli Jews have been the victims of precisely this kind of murderous attack, among many others. Whatever the supposed provocation on either side, there can never be any justification or excuse whatsoever for murdering the innocent. It would be deeply shocking if this was committed by Jewish boys, and religious Jewish boys at at that. It would surely be a chillul hashem, a desecration of the name of the Almighty as a repudiation of Jewish ethics.
But unfortunately, the Shin Bet have long claimed that there are Jewish extremists in the disputed territories who plot precisely such outrages which security agents periodically thwart.
Indeed, according to The Times of Israel the Shin Bet confirmed an earlier report that, after the Rabi murder, nationalist extremists known to them had driven to the yeshiva, violating religious laws that prohibit driving on the Sabbath, in order to coach students they suspected were involved on how to withstand interrogations and urging them to remain silent as much as possible.
A further report claims that this was authorised by two settlement rabbis, no less. They apparently decided that, in the light of the suicide attempt by another minor after being interrogated following the 2015 terror attack that killed three members of the Palestinian Arab Dawabsha family, warning the yeshiva students was a “matter of life or death”.
By this deeply specious reasoning (on this basis, all Jewish suspects should be shielded from the Shin Bet regardless of whatever terrible crime they are suspected of committing) that group of rabbis and Sabbath violators would seem to have abused religious authority to put themselves outside the rule of law in order to prevent justice from being done.
The security agency also reportedly claims to have identified an effort to slander and delegitimise its interrogation methods, which it maintains are carried out in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the State Attorney’s office.
It is unlikely that Israeli Jewish terror suspects would be treated worse than Palestinian Arab ones. It is unlikely that either group would be handled with kid gloves, but the details the lawyers have revealed of the boys’ treatment, although harsh, hardly amounts to torture:
“’From morning to night (my client) was shackled to a chair, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, in a small cell’… the interrogators had ‘cursed, spit on and even sexually harassed’ his client. He claimed that the Shin Bet agents had even performed a jailhouse informant exercise with cops posing as inmates who pressured the suspects to confess.”
More worryingly, when one of these lawyers, Itamar ben Gvir, was asked why he hadn’t criticised the Shin Bet’s interrogation tactics against Palestinian suspects, he denied that the murder of Aisha Rabi was terrorism at all.
“‘When a Jew throws a rock at a Palestinian, it is not terrorism. When a Palestinian throws a rock at a Jew, it is terrorism because it’s part of a larger effort to wipe us out from our land,’ he argues.”
That is wrong and repellent, hardly mitigated by his lame addendum that the “extreme” tactics used by the Shin Bet against his client should not be used against Palestinian inmates either.
The murder of Aisha Rabi was indeed a foul and murderous act of terrorism – violence against the innocent carried out for political motives. Whether or not it was committed by the boys currently in custody, not only the perpetrators but also those who tried to obstruct justice on their behalf should feel the full force of the law.
Unlike the Arab communities in the disputed territories, where the murder of Jews – whose incitement is institutionalised within Palestinian society – is celebrated with sweets and fireworks by jubilant throngs, Jewish terrorism is rare and is viewed by the vast majority of Jews with horror and revulsion.
But it exists; and however small, it is a foul stain on the Jewish conscience. It must be dealt with.