Last week the Israeli parliament updated a 59-year-old law originally intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from returning to the land from which they had been expelled as Israel was established. Fast-forward six decades and Israel is relying on the infiltration law to prevent a supposedly new threat to its existence: the arrival each year of several thousand desperate African asylum seekers.
It would be misleading to assume that the major obstacle to the success of peace talks is the right-wing political ideology the settler movement represents. Equally important are deeply entrenched economic interests shared across Israeli society. These interests took root more than six decades ago with Israel’s establishment and have flourished at an ever-accelerating pace since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the Arab-Israeli War in 1967.
A vague security offence of “contact with a foreign agent” is being used by Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, to lock up Arab political activists in Israel without evidence that a crime has been committed, human rights lawyers alleged this week. The lawyers said the Shin Bet was exploiting the law to characterise innocent or accidental meetings between members of Israel’s large Arab minority and Arab foreign nationals as criminal activity.
The arrest by Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, of an Israeli Jew accused of killing at least four Palestinians, has thrown a rare light on the secret police, including attempts by one of its agents to enlist the accused to assassinate a Palestinian spiritual leader. Far-right groups have rapidly come to the aid of Chaim Pearlman, waging what the Shin Bet officials have described as “psychological warfare” by revealing damaging details about the case.
The first reports of Israel’s May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla surfaced among the country’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens alongside rumors that Sheikh Ra’id Salah, head of the radical northern wing of the Islamic Movement of Israel, had been shot dead on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. Salah is alive, but at the time his demise seemed confirmed when it emerged that large numbers of police had been drafted into northern Israel, where most of the Palestinian minority lives, in expectation of widespread violence.
Israel yesterday worked to fast-track the release of hundreds of foreign peace activists arrested in its raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla earlier this week. A steady flow of buses ferried detainees to land borders and the main airport. Israel said all 680 detainees would be released yesterday after a heated debate among government ministers on Tuesday night at which most agreed it was important to minimise the damage to Israel’s severely battered image.
A leading human rights activist from Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority was charged yesterday with the most serious security offences on Israel’s statute book, including espionage. Prosecutors indicted Ameer Makhoul, the head of Ittijah, an umbrella organisation for Arab human rights groups in Israel, with spying on security facilities on behalf of Hizbollah after an alleged meeting with one of its agents in Denmark in 2008.
The recent arrest of two respected public figures from Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority in nighttime raids on their homes by the Shin Bet secret police — brought to light this week when a gag order was partially lifted — has sent shock waves through the community. The arrests are not the first of their kind. The Shin Bet has been hounding and imprisoning politicians and intellectuals from the country’s Palestinian minority since the birth of the Jewish state more than six decades ago.
Job interviews for the position of imam at mosques in Israel are conducted not by senior clerics but by the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, a labour tribunal has revealed. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Ajwa, 36, is fighting the Shin Bet’s refusal to approve his appointment as an imam in a case that has lifted the lid on Israel’s secret surveillance of the country’s Islamic leaders. At a hearing last month, a senior government official admitted that 60 undercover inspectors were employed effectively as spies to collect information on Muslim clerics.
An Arab member of the Israeli parliament is demanding that a newspaper be allowed to publish an investigative report that was suppressed days before Israel attacked Gaza in winter 2008. The investigation by Uri Blau, who has been in hiding since December to avoid arrest, concerned Israeli preparations for the impending assault on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead. In a highly unusual move, according to reports in the Israeli media, the army ordered the Haaretz newspaper to destroy all copies of an edition that included Mr Blau’s investigation after it had already gone to press. The article was never republished.
An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would “remove the gloves” to track him down. The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a “fugitive felon” and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued.
What is misleadingly being called in Israel the “Anat Kamm espionage affair” is quickly revealing the dark underbelly of a nation that has worshipped for decades at the altar of a security state. Next week 23-year-old Kamm is due to stand trial for her life — or rather the state’s demand that she serve a life sentence for passing secret documents to an Israeli reporter, Uri Blau, of the liberal Haaretz daily. She is charged with spying. Blau himself is in hiding in London, facing, if not a Mossad hit squad, at least the stringent efforts of Israel’s security services to get him back to Israel.
Israel unveiled “Iron Dome” last week, a missile-defence system that is designed to strike a knock-out blow against short-range rockets of the variety fired into Israel by Hamas and Hizbullah. In the short term, Iron Dome is supposed to herald the demise of the rocket threat to Israeli communities near Gaza four years after Hamas won the Palestinian elections. The period in-between has been marked by a series of inconclusive moves by both sides.
South Africa deported an Israeli airline official last week following allegations that Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet, had infiltrated Johannesburg international airport in an effort to gather information on South African citizens, particularly black and Muslim travellers. The move by the South African government followed an investigation by local TV showing an undercover reporter being illegally interrogated by an official with El Al, Israel’s national carrier, in a public area of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport.
Civil rights groups in Israel have expressed outrage at the announcement last week that a special undercover unit of the police has been infiltrating and collecting intelligence on Israel’s Arab minority by disguising its officers as Arabs. It is the first public admission that the Israeli police are using methods against the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens that were adopted long ago in the occupied territories, where soldiers are regularly sent on missions disguised as Palestinians.
The Israeli government announced yesterday it would consider banning Israel’s Islamic Movement at the next cabinet meeting, in a significant escalation of tensions that have fuelled a fortnight of bloody clashes in Jerusalem over access to the Haram al Sharif compound of mosques. The move followed the arrest of the movement’s leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, on Tuesday on suspicion of incitement and sedition.
Pope Benedict XVI urged the Christian and Muslim communities of Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, to “reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice” as he addressed 40,000 followers yesterday at his final public Mass in the Holy Land. His message of peace and reconciliation for Nazareth, renowned as the town where Jesus grew up, was delivered amid a heavy Israeli security operation that angered many residents.
It is not entirely surprising that Amos Gilad, an Israeli general who once sued his own government for “irreversible mental damage” caused by his role in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has publicly courted controversy again. On Monday, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, suspended Mr Gilad as his envoy to Egypt, responsible for negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas, after Mr Gilad called the prime minister’s truce conditions “insane”. The move threatened to unleash a political storm in Israel.
- Page 1 of 2