JERUSALEM (Sep. 3)
Deputy Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has rejected allegations by the former head of the Shin Bet that he had authorized the beating deaths of two Palestinian bus hijackers and subsequent coverup two years ago. According to local press reports, Shamir was interrogated this week on his role in the affair. Shamir was Prime Minister at the time of the hijacking, which came to an end when the bus was stormed by Israeli soldiers. Two of the four hijackers were killed during the storming of the bus, but two were taken and subsequently beaten to death during interrogation by Shin Bet agents.
According to reports, Shamir told his interrogator, Police Inspector-General David Kraus, that he had learned of the death of the two captured terrorists in the hands of the security forces only after the affair.
He said he had not known of the conspiracy to mislead the two committees that investigated the affair, until a complaint was made by Reuven Hazak, who worked under Avraham Shalom, head of Shin Bet at the time.
Shamir’s reported evidence came in direct contrast with the testimony of Shalom, who explicitly said, in his pardon request to President Chaim Herzog, that all his actions were carried out “with permission and authority,” meaning with the full knowledge of the Premier at the time.
It is now the task of Attorney-General Yosef Harish to decide whether the conflicting versions have brought the investigation to a dead end, or whether both versions should be brought before the court to decide.
Former Attorney-General Yitzhak Zamir warned this week that he was alarmed by recent statements from important public figures “which might lead to a deterioration in the rule of law.”
He was referring to statements by Premier Shimon Peres and others that standard judicial process must sometimes be subordinated to security concerns. This was used as an argument against holding a full-scale public investigation into the case. The police investigation now under way is not public and those Shin Bet officials who have been implicated in the affair have already received pardons from Herzog.
In a speech Tuesday, Zamir sharply criticized the country’s jurists for not sounding their opinions at the height of the public debate on the rule of law in the Shin Bet affair. He urged jurists to show greater involvement in the issue.
“Everyone must obey the law,” said Zamir, “and that includes the government.” For that, he said, “one needs real leadership.”
“Who will decide in which cases one can ignore the law?” he said. “Who will decide? The Premier? The Defense Minister? And why only them? Why not the Chief of Staff? Or the commander of a military operation, or any other security agency? Hasn’t it been said that vital economic interests may take precedence over the law? And the fear of God? And the wholeness of the country? Then what will be left of the rule of law? If the government does not respect the law, one cannot expect the citizen to do so.”
Justice Minister Avraham Sharir differed with Zamir, saying the Shin Bet affair was an extraordinary case, from which one should not draw conclusions on the rule of law in Israel. “Israel is a state of law,” he said. “And there is no threat to that rule.”
Sharir expressed concern over the negligence which he said plagues the Israeli legal system, and “the primitive management of the courts, which fits the Ottoman era.”