Settler rabbi faces trial for not naming names to police
By Chaim Levinson • Ha'aretz
Rabbi Mordechai Geniram, head of the Har Shalom hesder yeshiva, goes on trial today for obstructing justice by refusing to give police the names of students suspected of attacking and beating Palestinian shepherds in March 2008.
Geniram, whose yeshiva specializes in rehabilitating youths with a criminal record, said he refused in order to protect the students from having their army service affected by criminal charges.
The incident in question occurred on March 30, 2008, when Palestinian shepherds were spied near the settlement of Mitzpeh Eshtemoah, which houses the yeshiva. They were met by three yeshiva students. Geniram says the students chased them off with shouts; the Palestinians say they were attacked.
When Geniram was called in for questioning by the police, he gave his version of events, in which the students did not assault the shepherds. The indictment focuses on the following exchange:
Interrogator: So who are the boys who went down to the Arabs?
Geniram: I'm not interested in saying.
Interrogator: Do you know who they were?
Geniram: I do.
Interrogator: Why won't you divulge the identities of the boys who went down to the locals?
Geniram: I don't want to harm their reputations, their clean records and their ability to contribute to this country. I'm acting on the clear knowledge they didn't do anything.
Geniram is a scion of one of the most renowned families in the settlement movement. His father, Yitzhak, was a member of the so-called Jewish underground, a group convicted of terrorist activity. The yeshiva - named after Shalom (Shuli) Har-Melech, who was murdered in a shooting attack - was set up in Homesh and moved to its present location after the disengagement in 2005. The Defense Ministry recognized it as a hesder yeshiva, which combines religious studies with military service, about a year ago.
Geniram said the indictment was a "stab in the back," as he actively supports cooperation with the army and the state even as others display suspicion and alienation. "I'm an educator, and I work hard to legitimize the army," he said. "This indictment hurts this kind of work. I came to cooperate with the police. I could have insisted on my right to remain silent, and then there would be no indictment.
"I've had experience closing criminal files for students and working to change their thinking and to integrate them into the army. If I gave those names to the police - knowing the students haven't done a thing - they would have had criminal files opened, and that would have affected them for the rest of their lives."
Naftali Selsberg, who represents Geniram, said the police "are trying to create informants," which former Supreme Court justice Haim Cohen said years ago "characterized totalitarian, rather than democratic, regimes."
"It's unthinkable in a democracy to force a man to inform on a friend or a neighbor," Selsberg said. "It was a strange interrogation. First, they say you have the right to remain silent. Then, when you don't give the names, you're accused of obstructing justice."
Dan Yakir, legal adviser to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said he could not recall a similar indictment. "It's important to develop a policy on which cases result in indictments, to prevent discrimination and arbitrariness," he said.