Israel closes case of Shin Bet operative accused of abuse

Israel closes case of Shin Bet operative accused of abusing Palestinians, despite apparent self-incrimination
4 min read
06 July, 2021
Among the justifications for concluding the matter were that the officer's conduct was because of "excessive motivation" and the fact he was fired.
Shai Nitzan, an ex-Israeli state attorney, gave his agreement to the move [Yuri Smityuk/TASS/Getty-archive]

A Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency operative accused of being abusive towards Palestinians will not be formally indicted, regardless of apparent self-incrimination.

This decision received agreement from Shai Nitzan, an ex-Israeli state attorney, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.

Among the justifications for closing the case were the finding that the officer's conduct was because of "excessive motivation" and the fact he was fired.

There were, however, strong indicators that inappropriate force had been used by the officer, Haaretz said it discovered.

Eyewitnesses suggested the Shin Bet employee, given the name "Saban", had broken the sunroof of a vehicle owned by Palestinians and had damaged items in their house.

They said the incident occurred in early 2018 in a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank, where Shin Bet and an Israeli infantry personnel had gone to detain a Palestinian accused of "selling weapons".

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After "Saban" found the person they wanted was out, he started to damage items inside the house and attacked a vehicle in front of it, in an apparent show of rage aimed at coercing the relatives into giving up their family member's location.

While there weren't any attempts to prevent the Shin Bet agent from doing what he did on the day, colleagues later told senior officers what happened. Israeli police were then given charge of the file.

One colleague present at the incident informed those probing the matter: "He told us on the way [to the house] that he would put on a show and that my job was to 'restrain' him in front of the family".

Initially, the eyewitness suggested the damage could have been accidental.

"First, perhaps without noticing, he broke a window next to him with his helmet".

"Saban"'s colleague alleged that the relatives of the suspect were "lying" about his location.

When "Saban" approached the suspect's brother and started "shouting at him", the witness asked him to "calm down".

"Saban" then went into the kitchen, seemingly to quiz the suspect's brother as well as his father, at which time his colleague "heard glass breaking".

"I saw Saban smashing glass with a hammer".

He also used the weapon against a dish rack and other items in the home, according to his colleague, before leaving the house and turning to the car.

He "tried to break one of the windows, then he hammered at the sunroof and the glass broke. It served no purpose, except to scare the family".

Meanwhile, an infantry major said he witnessed the scene and had inquired with a "security guard" about whether this was alright.

After being told the move was a "pressure tactic", the infantryman looked to Saban who reiterated that there was no problem, claiming to be performing a "procedure".

The major added: "I was wrong to let him continue acting like that. After he broke the sunroof, I decided we were done at this house".

For his part, "Saban" alleged that he wanted to make "a little show" so that if the suspect was nearby he would hear it and turn himself in, or that his family would make him turn himself in.

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"They kept lying about where he was, so I decided to do some damage to the house to pressure them," he alleged.

"I take full responsibility for my actions. I had never used force on anyone without need".

The file was eventually closed and returned to Shin Bet, where an internal decision was made to keep the accused operative doing office duties only.

In early 2019, "Saban"'s time with the service ended.

Shin Bet said it did give his file to the police for them to look into, Haaretz reported.

"In view of the investigation’s findings and the opinion of the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the internal investigations chief, it was decided that the Shin Bet employee service would be terminated immediately".

The agency noted the length of time since "Saban"'s departure from their staff.

Nevertheless, a few years before 2018, another allegation was made against him.

A Palestinian man named Muhammad Abbas said troops had attacked him when he was detained in the West Bank. He alleged that "Captain Saban" had hit him and launched plates towards him.

Even so, this file was closed, given apparently opposing accounts given by the alleged victim as to who was involved in striking him.

The New Arab has reached out to the Shin Bet through the Israeli Prime Minister's Office's public affairs team.

Separately, in May 2021, an Israeli police officer was suspended by the police commissioner after video emerged showing him shooting a Palestinian child in the back with a rubber-coated bullet. Haaretz said he did not aim.

The officer's bullet hit teenage Jana in the back leading to her being hospitalised.

Israel forces have been slammed by rights group and activists for displaying an "appalling disregard for human life" by using reckless and unlawful lethal force against Palestinians.

Amnesty International has repeatedly urged an end to  the "worrying rise in unlawful killings by Israeli forces, fostered by a culture of impunity".