A group of extreme right-wing Israeli settlers are believed to have coached the murderers of an unarmed Palestinian mother on how to withstand interrogation by Israeli security agency Shin Bet, pre-empting the agency’s investigation.
Shin Bet – the agency responsible for investigating the murder of Al-Rabi – suspects that just hours after she was killed last month “several far-right Israeli activists drove to a yeshiva [religious Jewish school] in the northern West Bank […] in order to coach students they suspected were involved in the incident on how to withstand Shin Bet interrogations,” the Times of Israel (ToI) reported.
The revelation was first disclosed by Israel’s public broadcaster Kan yesterday, but the Times of Israel has since received confirmation from Israeli defence officials that “the far-right activists who made the drive are figures known to the Shin Bet, and have undergone extensive interrogations at the hands of the agency’s operatives”. ToI continued:
The activists spoke to a number of students they believed were involved in the stone-throwing […] giving them tips on how to endure the interrogations, reviewing their rights upon detainment, and urging them to remain silent as much as possible.
Shin Bet also believes that the extremist settlers drove to the yeshiva on the Sabbath – which is forbidden to religious Jews – suggesting they understood the urgency and gravity of the murder and the importance of reaching the suspects before Shin Bet could begin its investigation. The Times of Israel adds that the decision to drive and meet the suspects has also aided the subsequent investigation, “strengthen[ing] the belief among security officials that this was not a case of Palestinian stone throwers mistaking a Palestinian vehicle for an Israeli one”.
Aisha Muhammad Talal Al-Rabi – a 47-year-old mother from Biddya, southwest of Nablus in the occupied West Bank – was killed in an attack in mid-October. The incident took place at Tapuah Junction (Za’atara) as Aisha and her husband Yaqoub were driving past a nearby illegal settlement. Their car was hit by stones believed to have been thrown by settlers, causing Yaqoub to lose control of the car – in the midst of the attack Aisha is believed to have been struck on the head with a large rock, causing her to lose consciousness. A video showing the aftermath of the incident revealed graphic images of the blood-soaked car seat and shattered windscreen. Although Aisha was rushed to hospital, she was pronounced dead on arrival.
Shin Bet quickly launched an investigation into the attack, which was interpreted as indication that the agency suspected the involvement of illegal Israeli settlers. The investigation was also immediately placed under gag order by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
A week after Aisha’s death, Israel cancelled the work permits of her husband Yaqoub Al-Rabi and her brothers. The family said they were “surprised to find out that they were [being] punished for the settlers’ murder of Aisha by revoking their work permit, even though they were victims of the attack”.
Though Shin Bet claimed the cancellation of the Al-Rabis’ work permits was temporary, the move was interpreted as evidence of the double-standard with which such incidents are handled – Israel allows up to 20 years’ imprisonment for Palestinians accused of throwing rocks at a vehicle with the intent of causing bodily harm, or ten years if intent was not proven. However, according to human rights organisation Yesh Din only three per cent of investigations into ideologically-motivated crimes committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians have resulted in a conviction.
Shin Bet has yet to issue in full the findings of its investigations.