Startling developments in the case of the settler murder of the Dawabsheh family in the village of Duma near Hebron. In the attack, it’s reported that at least four settler youth torched the family’s home and watched avidly as their bodies burned on the street outside. It’s been a month since the attack and no one has been arrested and directly implicated in the crime, though according to the settler advocacy group, Honenu, as many as 16 settlers have been arrested since that date. Until now, it hasn’t been known the exact extent of the involvement of any of them in the arson.
Last week, Sara Yael Hirschhorn, writing in the NY Times, named three suspects under arrest: Meir Ettinger, Mordechai Meyer, and Ephraim Khantsis. In her interesting article, she notes that two of them were born and raised in the U.S. The third, Ettinger, is the grandson of Meir Kahane, the most ‘illustrious’ terrorist produced by American Jewry.
Haaretz confirms there are three suspects under administrative detention. It includes Ettinger and Meyer among them and adds the name Eviatar Slonim. Khantsis was arrested after threatening a Shabak agent at one of the judicial hearings in the case. He’s not seen as a co-conspirator in the actual crime, as far as I know.
Administrative detention is the lazy man’s form of justice. Israel can arrest virtually anyone for any reason (it must claim the reason is security-related) and hold them for any length of time it wishes (sentences can be extended every six months virtually forever). The State may decide to try someone so detained, or not. It never needs to present evidence of any crime. This allows Israel to say to the world: you see we have arrested the culprits; they are in prison. But of course, they’re not serving time for their crime. They’re serving time at the arbitrary discretion of the Shabak for no clear reason. This is not justice. Or, should I say, this is Israeli justice.
Haaretz reports that Bogie Yaalon, the defense minister told a meeting of Likud youth activists that the Shabak knows precisely who the murderers are. But conveniently, it’s not charged them yet with the crime because to do so would expose its own agents among the settlers. I say this is “convenient” because it allows the government to have it both ways: yes, we’ve solved the crime and know who the killers are; no, we won’t prosecute them because protecting our sources is more important than doing justice by the Palestinian victims. Yaalon’s comment is meant as an escape valve, letting off steam that has been building throughout the world regarding the impunity of settler terrorists inside the Israeli state. The UN Middle East envoy even derided Israel for not doing enough to solve this heinous crime. The pressure is on. But Israel obviously wishes to ignore it if possible. Yaalon’s gimmick is a perfect ploy.
It’s worth noting that in Palestinian security cases there are no such compunctions. Shabak doesn’t hold back on arresting and charging suspects in order to protect sources. In fact, it doesn’t have to reveal the identity of sources to anyone in order to offer an informant’s evidence. If the agency would have to do this in a case involving Jewish terrorists it means there are two separate standards in security cases involving Jews and Arabs.
An Israeli security source informs me that one of co-conspirators in the crime, but not the actual firebomber, was a Shabak agent. He did not name this individual. He said: “one of the killers’ inner-circle members – not one of the killers themselves – was a Shabak agent provocateur – a kind of ‘Avishai Raviv‘ (English). A bit of history is in order. Raviv was an intimate of Yigal Amir. In fact, he was recruited by the Shabak (his agent code name was “Champagne”) and told to keep an eye on the future assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. Except Raviv had his own agenda, as informants often do. He knew of the plot to murder Rabin. In fact one witness said he urged Amir: “Be a man. Kill him already.” Raviv did not report the plot to the Shabak. At least that is what the Shabak told us.
By the way, Raviv was later prosecuted for refusing to reveal the crime and he was acquitted. In Israel, justice isn’t just blind. It’s deaf and dumb as well.
In the Dawabsheh case, the possibility of a rogue agent would be equally convenient to explain the Shabak’s lapse in detecting the plot before it was executed. It can blame a settler informant who went off the reservation. This would certainly take some of the heat off the agency–or at least that would be the plan.
This raises all sorts of other questions, some of them quite troubling: who is this settler “agent provocateur?” And what does my source mean by the latter phrase? It connotes someone who actually incited the crime in some way, even if he didn’t commit it. If that’s the case–if the Shabak encouraged this individual to provoke a criminal act but didn’t know anything about the actual crime–well, that’s the height of malfeasance. In fact, it may be a repeat of the Rabin assassination. Except that this crime led to three deaths.
More questions: is the informant one of those in custody? Or is the informant still at large? If the latter is the case, will this individual ever be charged with a crime? I’d say that’s highly doubtful since it would mean the Shabak might have to explain its relationship with him, how it recruited him, what it offered him, etc. That’s a can of worms the agency will avoid at all costs.
Finally, if there was a major fashlah in this case and Shabak incited a crime but failed to prevent it–this will be a major black eye for the agency. Not the first and certainly not the last.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.