security state

Israel’s secretive arms trade is booming as never before, according to the latest export figures. A new documentary, which has led the way in turning the spotlight on Israel’s arms industry, claims that four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have become little more than guinea pigs in military experiments designed to enrich a new elite of Israeli arms dealers and former generals.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

In a conflict that has produced more than its share of suffering and tragedy, the name of Kafr Qassem lives on in infamy more than half a century after Israeli police gunned down 47 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, in the village. This week Kafr Qassem’s inhabitants commemorated the anniversary of the deaths 52 years ago by marching to the cemetery where the victims were laid to rest. They did so as the local media published testimonies from two former senior police officers who recalled that day’s events.

Niveen Abu Rahmoun appears an unlikely target for the interest of Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet. The quietly spoken 26-year-old from the village of Reine, near Nazareth, is a civics teacher in a local high school. However, she has been barely out of the thoughts of Shin Bet agents since her interrogation at a Nazareth police station in March. Officials have phoned her three more times demanding that she come for further investigation. She has refused. “It’s clear that they have no evidence against me. They are simply trying to intimidate me because of my political views.”

With the 3.7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories caged inside their ghettos, unable to protest their treatment behind fences and walls, the turn has come of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The crushing of these more than one million unwanted citizens currently inside the walls of the fortress – the Achilles’ heel of the Jewish state – is likely to be just as ruthless as that of the Palestinians under occupation.