JERUSALEM — A pair of Jewish settlers from Hebron, arrested on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist cell, remain behind bars this week following legal maneuvers that have pitted many hard-line settlers against Ariel Sharon’s government.
Yitzhak Pass — father of Shalhevet Pass, the 10-month-old killed by a sniper’s bullet in Hebron on March 26, 2001 — and his brother-in-law, Matityahu Shvu, were arrested July 17 on charges of “security crimes.” The court issued a gag order on the details of the case. Their remand was extended by another week last Monday by Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Noam Solberg, who cited both intelligence and “material evidence” as reasons for keeping them in jail.
The suspects have also been forbidden from meeting with their lawyers. The Supreme Court this week rejected an appeal of this provision, saying the two are suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell.
Jewish civilians are suspected of carrying out about a dozen shooting attacks against Arabs since the outbreak of the intifada in 2000, including several attacks around Hebron. In all, seven Palestinians were killed and 19 wounded in the attacks, which authorities believe are the work of Jewish terrorist cells.
Pass and Shvu reportedly are suspected of involvement in two attacks, both of which took place several weeks after Pass’s daughter was murdered. In June 2001, an Arab vehicle was fired on outside the Jewish township of Ma’aleh Adumim, killing one. Credit was claimed by a group calling itself the “Shalhevet-Gilad Brigades,” named after Pass’s daughter and Gilad Zar, a settler who was killed a few weeks before. Later that month, three Palestinians were killed, including a 6-month-old baby, in an attack on a vehicle near the Arab village of Tarkumiya. An organization called the Committee for the Defense of the Roads claimed responsibility.
If the attacks are the work of Jewish terrorists, it is not unprecedented. In the early 1980s, nearly 30 Jewish settlers, many of them prominent figures in the settler movement, were convicted of offenses ranging from membership in a terrorist organization to carrying out a murderous grenade-and-rifle attack on Hebron’s Islamic University, as well as firing on an Arab girls’ school and conspiring to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Members of the group, which came to be known as the “Jewish terrorist underground,” were sentenced to terms ranging up to life in prison, but all were eventually granted presidential clemency and released.
The Shin Bet General Security Service is said to suspect that a new Jewish underground is forming, but reportedly lacks firm leads.
Naftali Wurzberger, a prominent lawyer who has represented many right-wing militants in the past, argued before the Supreme Court this week that the ban on Pass and Shvu speaking with lawyers is meant to break their spirit through illegitimate interrogation methods.
Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, after questioning Shin Bet agents behind closed doors, said that “the prevention of the meeting of Pass and Shvu with their lawyer is necessary because we are not dealing with an interrogation whose aim is to collect material on criminal activities perpetrated in the past. They are suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell and the investigation is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks in the future.”
Dorner said information supplied by the Shin Bet satisfied the three conditions for barring a suspect’s meeting with a lawyer: suspicion that he may thwart the arrest of other suspects; suspicion that he may prevent police from finding more evidence, and belief that barring such a meeting will prevent crime and save lives.
The arrest and gag order have inflamed the Jewish residents of Hebron against the Likud government, ostensibly a political ally. Settlers insist on the suspects’ innocence and charge a violation of due process in denying the suspects the right to speak to an attorney.
“Itzik [Pass] is a smart guy,” said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community. “He knows his family needs him, he knows his wife needs him, he’s got two little children, and after what they’ve gone through, I don’t think he would risk finding himself put away for years.”
Wilder said the government’s procedures were reminiscent of communism.
“I think what they did last week is KGB,” he said, referring to the erstwhile Soviet secret police. “They went to the municipal court without notifying Itzik Pass, without notifying his attorney, and they went to the judge and asked him to extend the remand until next Friday. And the judge agreed to that. The other side wasn’t present, the attorney didn’t have an opportunity to rebut what they were saying or to do anything. He was notified after the fact. That has no semblance of justice to it whatsoever. It shows that the Shin Bet is scared — scared of what, we don’t know.”
Wilder said there are rumors among the settlers that one reason for the arrests is a plan by Sharon to include Shalhevet Pass’s killer among the 540 Palestinian security prisoners to be released shortly.
“They don’t want [Pass’s killer] wandering around when he’s released,” said Wilder. “I personally think that Sharon is trying to say to people, ‘I know how to take care of you.’ He’s obviously serious about continuing with the idea behind the ‘road map’ of a Palestinian state and uprooting the settlements.”
Pass’s wife Oriya, interviewed in the daily Yediot Aharonot last week, flatly denied her husband’s guilt in the killings, but added: “We don’t weep when an Arab child is killed, whatever the circumstances.”