JERUSALEM — Several Jewish teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out “serious terror offenses,” including the killing of a Palestinian woman three months ago, Israel’s internal security agency made public on Sunday.
A media blackout had prevented the publication of most details of the case. But the arrests over the past week still served to stoke nationalist tensions in the country as it gears up for a general election on April 9.
The Shin Bet internal security agency did not specify the number of minors arrested in the Oct. 12 stoning of a car carrying Aisha Mohammed Rabi, 47, and her husband, Yacoub, though Israeli media said five youths were arrested. The agency said in its Sunday statement that all the suspects were students in an Israeli settlement yeshiva.
Aisha, a mother of nine, was struck in the head with a stone and died shortly afterward.
“I don’t have any doubt it was the settlers,” her husband, who was lightly wounded, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time. “There were six or seven of them, and it was clear that they were young.”
Israeli police, who arrived at the scene shortly afterward, opened an investigation, though the victims’ family members said they did not believe any action would be taken. Palestinians, who often report such stoning incidents, say Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank receive unfair protection from Israeli authorities.
Since the arrests, settler leaders and ultra-right-wing Israeli politicians have ramped up criticism of the Shin Bet and police, accusing them of using unfair and illegal tactics to elicit confessions from minors. None of the suspects had been permitted legal counsel or allowed contact with relatives since their arrest, according to Israeli media and the suspects’ attorneys.
Under Israeli law, authorities are allowed to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects for up to 21 days without lawyers present.
On Saturday night, hundreds of settlers, including relatives of the suspects, gathered outside the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the arrests and call on him to intervene.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, a prominent settler leader, also called on Netanyahu to get involved, releasing a video in which he said the teens were not terrorists and “should not be investigated in the Shin Bet’s cellars.”
In its statement Sunday, the Shin Bet said there was an ongoing effort to “slander” and “delegitimize” the agency.
“Such action should be condemned, we must be allowed to continue with our activities to prevent terrorism, whether Jewish or Palestinian,” the Shin Bet said.
It said those arrested were students at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the settlement of Rehalim, not far from where stones were thrown at Rabi’s car. The Shin Bet statement said that the day after the attack, all the youths were briefed by settler activists on how to deal with the agency’s interrogations.
This is not the first time Jewish youths have been arrested on charges of terrorism or murder of Palestinians, although such cases are rare.
In July 2014, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, was kidnapped from outside his home, tortured and killed by three Israelis. The three, two of whom were minors, were later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 2015, three members of the Dawabshe family, including a baby, were killed when Jewish terrorists firebombed their home in the Palestinian village of Duma. Three Israeli youths residing in settlements were charged in that attack.