Israel court extends detention of extremist Jewish leader, arrests another suspect

12:00 Aug 4 2015 Nazerat Ilit

Israel court extends detention of extremist Jewish leader, arrests another suspect
Meir Ettinger, the head of a Jewish extremist group, stands at the Israeli justice court in Nazareth Illit on August 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (AFP/Jack Guez)

NAZARETH, Israel (AFP) -- An Israeli court Tuesday ordered the head of a Jewish extremist group to be kept in detention after his arrest following the burning to death of a Palestinian baby, judicial sources said.

The court in Nazareth, northern Israel, prolonged the incarceration of Meir Ettinger until at least Sunday, the sources said.

Ettinger, whose grandfather Meir Kahane founded the racist anti-Palestinian movement Kach, was arrested on Monday "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organisation", a spokesman for the Shin Bet internal security service told AFP.

Israeli police said Ettinger, who is aged around 20, was suspected of "nationalist crimes" but did not accuse him of direct involvement in last week's firebombing of a Palestinian home in the occupied West Bank, in which a toddler was burned to death.

Media reports said Ettinger could face a year of "administrative detention" under the government's harder line against "Jewish terrorists."

Israel normally applies the measure against Palestinians, allowing renewable six-month periods of detention without trial, but it can now be used with Jewish detainees in cases of insufficient evidence to go to trial or if the suspect refuses to testify, officials said on Monday.

On his blog, Ettinger has in past days denied the existence of an underground Jewish organisation, but has defended attacks on "crimes" such as the existence of churches and mosques branded as "places of pagan worship."

The Shin Bet spokesman said Ettinger was in January barred from entering the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem for a year "because of his activities."

by Chaim Levinson for Haaretz

Nazareth Magistrate's Court on Tuesday extended the custody of Meir Ettinger, the Shin Bet's most wanted Jewish suspect, until Sunday. The grandson of slain Jewish racist leader Meir Kahane, Ettinger was arrested Monday on suspicion of being part of a militant Jewish underground based in the West Bank settlements. .

Also on Tuesday, the Shin Bet security service arrested a second man, suspected of being part of the same gang of young radical Jews who, according to the Shin Bet, seek to attack Palestinians as part of their vision of overthrowing the Israeli government and replacing it with a Jewish kingdom.

The man, arrested outside Beit Shemesh, was previously arrested on suspicion of setting fire to a Palestinian home in the south Hebron Hills last November. He was released without charges, but barred by administrative order from entering Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Following his arrest Tuesday, he was taken to the Shin Bet's Kishon facility in the north for interrogation.

Meanwhile, Ettinger's lawyer, Yuval Zemer, of the right-wing legal defense NGO Honenu, said at the end of the closed-door court proceeding that his client maintains that Shin Bet investigators manhandled him – "shaking and punching him, even though this is against regulations." Zemer said he will appeal the extension of Ettinger's custody on Wednesday.

The Shin Bet called the accusation "fallacious."

"The investigation of Meir Ettinger is being carried out according to the law and subject to judicial oversight. Ettinger's claims are fallacious and baseless," the Shin Bet said.

Zemer said of the extension of Ettinger's custody: "I've already seen longer periods of custody that were based on nothing. This arrest is no more than an empty public relations stunt. There are no developments that necessitated it. [Ettinger] showed up for his summons for questioning and was arrested afterward."

The attorney also called into question the court's decision to hold the bail hearing behind closed doors, and to place a gag order on the investigation despite the Shin Bet's notice to the media of Ettinger's arrest.

Following Ettinger's arrest on Monday, Zemer said, "It appears that the difficult events of recent days have brought the relevant [security] units to invest a lot of effort in giving the impression of action, and what's better than [arresting] the grandson of Rabbi Kahane to satisfy the hunger of the masses?"

Intel: Ettinger plotted attacks on Palestinians

According to intelligence, Ettinger, 24, escalated his activity in 2014 and started planning a series of attacks against Palestinians. These were meant to stir up unrest among the Palestinians and thus bring about the overthrow of the Israeli government.

Shin Bet officials say Ettinger was arrested with the aid of the special police force in the Judea and Samaria District and has been taken for interrogation for his suspected role in an extremist Jewish group.

Last year the Shin Bet sought to place Ettinger under administrative detention, but State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan denied the request. Instead, a restraining order was issued that prohibited him from being in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and he moved to Safed.

Following the deadly arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma, which killed an infant and wounded three of his family members, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon asked the Shin Bet to place several right-wing activists under administrative detention, including Ettinger.

Though Ettinger is currently under arrest, should he refuse to cooperate with his interrogators he could face administrative detention, pending the approval of a district court judge.

Last week, the Shin Bet claimed that Ettinger heads an underground group that in June torched the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Ettinger denied the accusation, saying in a post from Sunday on his regular blog on the Hebrew-language Kol Yehudi news website, that there is no Jewish terror underground.

Ettinger: 'Lots and lots of Jews unbound by state laws'

However, he did assert that there are “lots and lots of Jews, many more than one might think, whose value system is very different than that of the High Court of Justice or the Shin Bet, and the laws that bind them are not the laws of the state ... but rather laws that are much more eternal.”

In a blog post from Friday, Ettinger wrote that he does not lead the organization that was behind the church arson, and the Shin Bet’s claim that he does reflects the intelligence agency’s own crisis.

“Whoever made up this lie knows better than anyone else that his remarks were lies, and the Shin Bet understands that all of the activities they are looking into aren’t stemming from some kind of ‘organization’ but rather just happening on the ground, fueled by the most simple, popular insights that motivated people to feel that they need to take action, that kind of evil spirit that emanates from the establishment,” Ettinger wrote.

Continuing, he wrote: “The truth must be told. There is no terror organization, but there are many, many Jews, many more than one might think, whose value systems are very different than those of the Supreme Court or the Shin Bet, and are not bound the ignorant laws of the state, but rather by laws much more eternal, from the source of the living water.”

In his post, Ettinger explained the rationale behind targeting Christian holy sites. He wrote about the protest against the demolition of buildings in Jewish settlements, saying it was insufficient: “The important struggle over the Land of Israel must be joined with another, real struggle against the government’s sin of allowing idol worship to happen here, particularly mosques and churches, in the Land of Israel, where the sound of church bells interferes with the sound of Torah and prayers,” wrote Ettinger, adding, “the State of Israel added insult to injury by detaining two Jews suspected of torching the church.”

“[The Jewish principle of] mutual responsibility obligates all to pitch in, and not to forget the suspects who are being held for all of us. We must amplify the struggle against the desecration the state allows by funding and aiding idol worship in the Holy Land,” Ettinger wrote.
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