Shin Bet cleared of ‘torturing’ Palestinian accused in Rina Shnerb murder

Shin Bet cleared of ‘torturing’ Palestinian accused in Rina Shnerb murder

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday closed the criminal investigation into Shin Bet interrogators who had allegedly tortured a Palestinian who was accused of the murder of Rina Schnerb in August 2019.

The case was noteworthy for many reasons, including that it was only one of two full criminal investigations into Shin  Bet handling of Palestinians in recent years, because the Palestinian, Samer Arbid almost died from his interrogation and because of the uproar created by Schnerb’s murder.

Mandelblit’s decision said that the case was closed based on the absence of evidence for the commission of a crime. 

The unusual legalistic language appeared to be a hint that some (though not all) of the allegations about how harshly the Shin Bet interrogated Arbid may have been true, but could not constitute a crime since there is a defense under Israeli law of necessity in order to prevent an imminent “ticking bomb” style attack.

The homeland security spy agency has said that its interrogation of Arbid led to locating materials which would soon have been used for future attacks. 

The trial of Arbid and the rest of his alleged terror cell of five Palestinians allegedly involved in the murder of Shnerb opened in January 2020 in the Judea Military Court at Camp Ofer.The trial is nowhere near conclusion due to a combination of delays by the coronavirus crisis and an unusual amount of legal battles between the defense the IDF prosecution over how much evidence must be turned over. Some of the evidentiary disputes have even been appealed, which always takes up even more time. Former IDF Chief West Bank Prosecutor and lawyer for the Schnerb family Lt. Co.. (res.) Maurice Hirsch has expressed his view that the defendants are dragging out the case regarding the treatment of Arbid and other issues, though they know that the evidence is strong and will eventually lead to their being convicted. 

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The five, including: Samer Arbid, Walid Hanatshe, Abed el-Razeq Faraj, Yzaen Majames and Kasem Shibli, were indicted in mid-December 2019.

In December 2019, former state attorney Shai Nitzan, who ordered the probe, told the Jerusalem Post exclusively, “it is not clear what led him to need to be hospitalized. It is unclear… I am not saying necessarily for this case, but maybe a man while he is in detention can get a heart attack, is it clear that it was because of torture or applying pressure? It’s not at all clear…”

“It is not simple that they beat him,” (Nitzan was saying for argument’s sake and not to confirm or deny what happened in the Arbid case) “and that because of that he ended up in the hospital…we do not know that what they did was what caused him to be sent to the hospital. Definitely not. Definitely not.”

In mid-December 2019, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced that they had uncovered and dismantled a 50-person strong terrorist cell believed to behind a string of deadly attacks in the area.

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According to the Shin Bet mid-December 2019 statement, the investigation into the Dolev attack on Shnerb, the cell planned to carry out additional attacks in the near future.

As part of the investigation, approximately 50 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLPF) operatives, including senior members of the Palestinian terrorist group, were arrested. A large number of weapons were seized including M-16s, Kalashnikovs, Uzis, Galil automatic rifles, pistols with silencers, ammunition and fertilizers to build bombs, as well as walkie-talkies, telescopic devices and others were discovered by security officials.

Many of the weapons were found during a joint IDF and Israel Police raid of a home belonging to one of Arbid’s relatives.

The members of the PFLP cell were arrested in the Ramallah area in the late 2019 period and were involved in shooting attacks near the settlement of Ofra in December 2017 and near the settlement of Ofra in March 2019. There were no casualties in either attack.

In October 2019, the Shin Bet announced that they had arrested suspects behind the attack at Ein Bubin Spring near the settlement of Dolev in which Shnerb was killed and her father and brother were injured.

According to the Shin Bet mid-December statement, Arbid prepared the explosive device and detonated it when he saw the Shnerb family approaching the spring.

The Shin Bet said those arrested in October 2019 revealed the details of the preparations they made for the attack and how they implemented them.

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“Evidence suggests that intelligence gathering prior to the attack began several weeks before its realization,” the Shin Bet said, adding that the cell members visited the area of the spring on various occasions to outline the attack before they presented the plan to Arbid and received his approval.

The night before the Dolev attack, the cell members made their way north of Ein Bubin Spring armed with guns and explosives. Arbid left Shibli and Majames in the field along with the explosive device while he drove back towards Ramallah to leave the vehicle far from the scene of the attack.

About an hour later, Hanatashe, who funded the attack, drove Arbid back to where the other cell members were waiting and left. Members of the cell led by Arbid then walked for two hours towards the spring where they placed the explosive device near the entrance to the spring and went up to a spot overlooking the place.

After several hours of waiting, the squad members noticed the Shnerb family approaching and passed the message to Arbid who pressed the trigger leading the powerful charge to explode as the family members walked by.

Following the attack, the cell members escaped to Ramallah where they split up.

“Intelligence decryption and a strenuous investigation have thwarted attacks planned by the cell in the immediate future,” said a senior Shin Bet officer, adding that had the planned attacks were carried out many lives would have been lost.

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