Home News Highlights from The Times investigation into ‘Unpunished’

Highlights from The Times investigation into ‘Unpunished’

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For decades, most Israelis have viewed Palestinian terrorism as the country’s biggest security problem. But there is another threat that could be even more destabilizing for Israel’s democratic future: Jewish terrorism and violence, and the lack of law enforcement in response to Jewish terrorism and violence.

Our years-long investigation reveals how violent factions within the Israeli settler movement, Being protected and sometimes encouraged by the government has posed a serious threat to the Palestinians in the occupied territories and to the State of Israel itself. Piecing together new documents, videos and more than 100 interviews, we find that the administration was shaken by the civil war — burying reports it commissioned, halting investigations it assigned and silencing whistleblowers, including some senior officials.

This is a blunt accountIn some cases, Israeli officials described for the first time how the occupation threatens the integrity of the country’s democracy.

Officials tell us that settlers bent on pursuing a theocratic state were once a fringe and sometimes criminal group that had been allowed to operate with almost no restrictions for decades.Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government came to power in 2022, some members of this faction have taken power, driving the country’s policies, including in Gaza war.

The lawbreaker has become the law.

Bezalel Smotrich, finance minister and official in charge of the West Bank in Netanyahu’s government, was jailed in 2005 for conspiring to block roads to prevent Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Bet Internal Security arrested. He was acquitted.Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gver has been convicted multiple times of supporting terrorists In 1995, he vaguely threatened the life of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in front of television cameras, weeks before Rabin was murdered by an Israeli student.

In theory, all West Bank settlers are subject to the same military laws that apply to Palestinian residents. But in practice, they are treated under Israeli civil law, which officially only applies to territory within the country.this means Shin Bet Two similar acts of terrorism in the West Bank—one committed by Jewish settlers, the other by Palestinians—might be investigated and using completely different investigative tools.

After the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel took control of new territories in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. In 1979, it was agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.Credit…New York Times

Investigations into Jewish terrorism are the responsibility of a department within the Shin Bet, commonly known as the Jewish Department. But its size and prestige pale in comparison to the Arab ministry, which is primarily responsible for combating Palestinian terrorism.

Jews involved in terrorist attacks against Arabs over the past few decades have been treated with significant leniency, including reduced jail time, weak investigations and pardons. Most incidents of settler violence – the burning of vehicles, the clearing of olive groves – fall under the purview of the police, who often ignore them. When the Jewish unit investigated more serious terrorist threats, it was often stymied from the start, and even its success was sometimes undermined by judges and politicians sympathetic to the settler cause.

The situation at both levels has only gotten worse over the past year. Our careful review of a sample of three dozen cases in the West Bank since October 7 shows the extent of the legal system’s decay. In cases ranging from livestock theft to arson to violent attacks, not a single suspect has been charged with a crime; in one case, a settler shot a Palestinian in the stomach while an IDF soldier looked on. Police questioned the gunman for only 20 minutes and never considered him a suspect.

Ami Ayalon, the head of the Shin Bet in the late 1990s, told CNN that government leaders “send a signal to the Shin Bet that if a Jew was killed, that would be terrible. If an Arab is killed, that’s not good, but it’s not the end of the world.”

But Jews have also been targeted by ultranationalists. Prime Minister Rabin was sentenced to death by a rabbi for supporting the Oslo peace process and was later murdered.

In 1981, after a group of professors in Jerusalem expressed concerns about possible collusion between settlers and authorities and illegal “private vigilantism” against Palestinians in the occupied territories, Judith Kapp, then Israel’s deputy attorney general for special duties, Karp) was asked to lead a committee Investigate this issue. Their reports uncovered case after case of break-ins, extortions, assaults and murders, despite military authorities and police taking no action or conducting nominal investigations that went nowhere.

Their report was rebuked by the then Home Secretary. “I understand he wants us to give it up,” Karp told us.

Another report twenty years later met a similar fate. Talia Sasson, appointed to draft a legal opinion on “unauthorized outposts”, found that in just over three years the Ministry of Construction and Housing issued dozens of illegal contracts in the West Bank . In some cases, the ministry even paid for their construction.

Sassen and her Justice Department colleagues said they considered separate laws governing the West Bank “totally insane.”

The report had little impact and did little to affect the machinery of settlement expansion.

In the West Bank, a new generation of ultranationalists has taken a more radical turn on the concept of a democratic Israeli state. Their goal is to destroy Israel’s institutions and establish “Jewish domination”: appoint a king, build a temple to replace the Jerusalem Mosque sacred to Muslims around the world, and impose a religious regime on all Jews.

Lior Akerman, a former Shin Bet official, told us that it was clear that “these feral groups would move from bullying Arabs to destroying property and trees, and ultimately murdering people.”

In October of this year, according to a classified document we have seen, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, commander of Israel’s Central Command in charge of the West Bank, wrote a letter to his boss, the Israeli military chief of staff, stating that the Israeli military’s A surge in Jewish terrorism and violence in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks “could set the West Bank on fire.”

Another document describes a meeting in March in which Foxx wrote that efforts to combat illegal settlement building had diminished “to the point of disappearing” since Smotrich took office.

Gaza has refocused the world’s attention on Israel’s long-standing failure to resolve the issue of Palestinian autonomy. But it is in the West Bank, in the hands of emboldened settlers, some of whom are now in power, that the occupation’s corrosive effects on Palestinian and Israeli rule of law are most evident.

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