Shin Bet

Jonathan Pollak, one of Israel’s most prominent political dissidents, is no stranger to dangerous situations or arrest in the occupied territories. In seven years of joining Palestinians in their weekly stand-offs with the Israeli army at sites in the West Bank, where the separation barrier is being built, he has been arrested “too many times to count”, he said. He has been injured several times. This week, he received his first jail sentence for participating in a mass bicycle ride in Tel Aviv.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The only three Arab parties represented in the Israeli parliament vowed yesterday to fight a decision by the Central Elections Committee to bar them from running in next month’s general election. In an unprecedented move signalling a further breakdown in Jewish-Arab relations inside Israel, all the main Jewish parties voted on Monday for the blanket disqualification. Several committee members equated the Arab parties’ vocal support for the Gazan people with support for terrorism.

The words “Jewish” and “terrorist” are not easily uttered together by Israelis. But just occasionally, such as last week when one of the country’s leading intellectuals was injured by a pipe bomb placed at the front door of his home, they find themselves with little choice. The target was 73-year-old Zeev Sternhell, a politics professor specialising in European fascism. Shortly afterwards, police found pamphlets nearby offering 1.1 million shekels to anyone assassinating a Peace Now leader.

Israel’s enduring use of Palestinian collaborators to entrench the occupation and destroy Palestinian resistance was once the great unmentionable of the Middle East conflict. When the subject was dealt with by the international and local media, it was solely in the context of the failings of the Palestinian legal system, which allowed the summary execution of collaborators by lynch mobs and kangaroo courts. That is beginning to change with a trickle of reports indicating the extent of Israel’s use of collaborators and the unwholesome techniques it uses to recruit them.

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.