TEL AVIV (May. 25)
The Shin Bet, Israel’s General Security Services, is under scrutiny again following a Supreme Court ruling Sunday. The court overturned the 1981 conviction of former Israel Defense Force Lt. Izat Nafsu and ordered his immediate release from prison after serving some seven years of an 18-year sentence for alleged espionage and treason.
Nafsu, from the Circassian village of Kfar Kama in Galilee — where he returned Monday to a jubilant welcome — had appealed his conviction to the high court under a law passed by the Knesset only a few months ago. It allows soldiers for the first time, to appeal military court decisions before the civilian judiciary.
He charged that his conviction was based on evidence fabricated by the Shin Bet and that his confession had been obtained by illegal means. The Chief Military Prosecutor tacitly confirmed this when he told the court Sunday that an examination of Nafsu’s file preparatory to answering his appeal made it clear that the military prosecutors had been led astray by the Shin Bet.
COURT RIPS SHIN BET
The court was severely critical of the Shin Bet’s methods and suggested that Attorney General Yosef Harish consider legal action against those involved in gathering evidence against Nafsu. Harish was reported late Monday to be ready to ask the police to investigate the GSS personnel concerned for possible criminal charges.
Meanwhile, a special commission set up by the government Friday began its own probe of GSS methods Monday, independent of the high court’s recommendation.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir said Monday that the Supreme Court’s ruling “underscores the importance of our decision a few days ago to form a committee to examine the GSS’ investigatory methods and (its) manner of making recommendation.”
Shamir warned, however, “against generalization.” He observed that: “The GSS must cope with a relentless war against terrorism and it has had immense successes. These anonymous individuals have had great and secret achievements in preserving Israel’s security… This is not to say that these individuals can do whatever they want. They are not above criticism.”
He cautioned that while “exceptions and irregularities may occur… we will not toss out the baby with the bathwater.”
President Chaim Herzog, commenting on the Nafsu affair Monday, expressed satisfaction that justice has triumphed, coupled with shame that any Israeli could have been convicted by illegal methods. The Mapam-affiliated newspaper Al-Hamishmar called Nafsu’s original conviction Israel’s “Dreyfus case” in which a member of a minority community was unjustly convicted of treason.
Nafsu was freed under a plea-bargaining agreement. He admitted that he had failed to inform his superiors of contacts he had with senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization “which might have endangered state security.” He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for that offense, which was counted as time already served.
Nafsu, who was demoted to private when convicted, said Monday that he would consider demanding back pay due him as a lieutenant and financial compensation for the years of hardship he endured in prison.
The Supreme Court’s decision was a blow to the Shin Bet. Its reputation was badly tarnished last year when an inquiry commission found it had tried to cover up the murder of two Arab bus hijackers after they were captured by the IDF in 1984 and turned over to security agents. Three top officials of Shin Bet were forced to resign. All received Presidential pardons although no formal charges were filed against them.