Notorious Army Method to Be Used inside Israel

Israeli Police Don Arab Disguise

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.

According to David Cohen, the national police commissioner, the unit was established two years ago after an assessment that there was “no intelligence infrastructure to deal with the Arab community”. He said that, in addition, undercover agents had been operating in East Jerusalem for several years to track potential terrorists.

Israel’s Arab leaders denounced the move as confirmation that the Arab minority was still regarded by the police as “an enemy” – a criticism made by a state commission of inquiry after police shot dead 13 unarmed Arab demonstrators inside Israel and wounded hundreds more at the start of the second intifada in 2000.

In a letter of protest to Israeli officials this week, Adalah, a legal rights group, warned that the unit’s creation violated the consitutional rights of the Arab minority and risked introducing “racial profiling” into Israeli policing.

Although the police claim that only Arab criminals are being targeted, Arab leaders believe the unit is an expansion of police efforts to collect information on political activists, escalating what they term a “climate of fear” being fostered by the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Awad Abdel Fattah, general secretary of the National Democratic Assembly party, whose activists are regularly interrogated by the police even though the party is represented in the national parliament, said there was strong evidence that undercover units had been operating in Arab communities for many years.

“The question is, why are the police revealing this information now? I suspect it is designed to intimidate people, making them fear that they are being secretly watched so that they don’t participate in demonstrations or get involved in politics. It harms the democratic process.”

Secret agents disguised as Arabs – known in Hebrew as “mista’aravim” – were used before Israel’s founding. Jews, usually recruited from Arab countries, went undercover in neighbouring states to collect intelligence.

The Haaretz newspaper revealed in 1998 that the secret police, the Shin Bet, also operated a number of mista’aravim inside Israel shortly after the state’s creation, locating them in major Arab communities.

The unit was disbanded in 1959, amid great secrecy, after several agents married local Arab women, and in some cases had children with them, in order to maintain their cover.

But the mista’aravim are better known for their use by the Israeli army on short-term missions inside Arab countries or in the West Bank and Gaza, where they have often been sent to capture or kill local leaders.

Famously Ehud Barak, the current defence minister, was sent to Beirut in 1973 disguised as an Arab woman to assassinate three Palestinian leaders.

More recently, however, the army’s mista’aravim have come to notice because of allegations that they are being used as agents provocateurs, especially in breaking up peaceful protests by Palestinians in the West Bank against the separation wall.

In April 2005, during a demonstration at the village of Bilin, north of Jerusalem, Palestinians throwing stones at soldiers were revealed to be mista’aravim. They were filmed blowing their cover shortly afterwards by pulling our pistols to make arrests. The army later admitted it had used mista’aravim at the demonstration.

Palestinians claim that stone-throwing by mista’aravim is often used to disrupt or discredit peaceful demonstrations and justify the army’s use of rubber bullets and live ammunition against the protesters in retaliation.

Last week Jamal Zahalka, an Arab member of the parliament, warned other legislators of the danger that mista’aravim police officers would adopt similar tactics: “Such a unit will carry out provocations, in which the Arab public will be blamed for disorderly conduct.”

Mr Abdel Fattah said there were widespread suspicions that mista’avarim officers had been operating for years at legal demonstrations held by Israel’s Arab citizens, including at the protests against Israel’s winter attack on Gaza. He said they were often disguised as journalists so that they could photograph demonstrators.

He said a woman activist from his party had been called in by the police for interrogation after a demonstration last year in the Arab town of Arrabeh. “The officer told her, ‘I know what you were saying because I was standing right next to you’. And he then told her exactly what she had said.”

In his testimony to a government watchdog, the police commissioner, Insp Gen Cohen, said he had plans for the unit “to grow” and that it would solve a problem the police had in infiltrating Israel’s large Arab communities: “It’s very hard for us to work in Umm al-Fahm, it’s very hard for us to deal with crime in Juarish and Ramle.”

Several unnamed senior officers, however, defended their role in monitoring the Arab community, claiming the commissioner was wrong in stating that the use of mista’aravim inside Israel was new. One told Haaretz: “Existing units of mista’aravim have operated undercover among this population for about a decade.”

Orna Cohen, a lawyer with the Adalah legal group, said the accepted practice for police forces was to create specialised units according to the nature of the crime committed, not according to the ethnicity or nationality of the suspect.

She warned that the unit’s secretive nature, its working methods and the apparent lack of safeguards led to a strong suspicion that the Arab minority was being characterised as a “suspect group”. “Such a trend towards racial profiling and further discrimination against the minority is extremely dangerous,” she said.

Comments two years ago from Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet, have raised fears about the uses the police unit may be put to. He said the security services had the right to use any means to “thwart” action, even democratic activity, by the Arab minority to reform Israel’s political system. All the Arab parties are committed to changing Israel’s status from a Jewish state to “a state of all its citizens”.

Mr Abdel Fattah said: “This is about transferring the methods used in the West Bank and Gaza into Israeli to erode our rights as citizens. It raises questions about what future the state sees for us here.”

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Danny Ray said on October 22nd, 2009 at 11:44am #

    Dreadfully Sorry about that, Really, Just eaxctly what part of UNDERCOVER did you not understand?

  2. Magmak1 said on October 22nd, 2009 at 3:00pm #

    This technique has been in widespread used by that country for some time now, especially in terms of black propaganda operations. Perhaps I should try it and wear a three-piece suit, hire a limo, and report to my job as a highly-paid Wall Street banker and see if I can get the payroll department to change an account deposit mechanism. It is also akin to the use of software with back doors that can infiltrate a financial system, shift funds and make other changes, and then destroy all evidence that it was there. Personal authenticity and integrity (as well as that of many organizations and governments) went out the door some time ago. It becomes easy when you can simply call yourself “entitled”, as T. Boone Pickens did recently.

  3. b99 said on October 23rd, 2009 at 12:49pm #

    Ultimately, Israeli-Jews are their own worst enemy. Who can they live with? Who can live with them? It’s no wonder Israeli’s are disliked everywhere – even in Brooklyn.

  4. mary said on October 24th, 2009 at 1:54am #

    From Greta Berlin Free Gaza

    Ewa Jasiewicz, Free Gaza Coordinator in Gaza, talks in Berlin, Germany about what she witnessed during the 22-day massacre of civilians in Gaza. Her on-the-ground reporting of what she and seven others saw during that time is heart-wrenching. Israel deliberately murdered 16 medics trying to do their job of rescuing other injured Palestinians, targeting them directly. Ewa and the other volunteers from Free Gaza and the International Solidarity Movement accompanied the ambulances, horrified at what they saw.

    She also eloquently speaks about the people in Gaza, how they are trying to make a living for their families as the Israeli Occupation Forces shoot to kill the farmers and fishermen, long after Operation Cast Lead was supposedly over.

    Listen to her speech, see the images from the people who were there recording Israel’s use of phosophorus bombs and other deadly weapons that Israel literally threw at a civilian populations. Families have been torn apart, 29 members of one family murdered in their home as they held a white flag of surrender.

    As Ewas says, “Israel’s objective is to rid Palestine of Palestinians: drip
    by drip, body by body, person by person, village by village.”

  5. mary said on October 28th, 2009 at 6:15am #

    Free speech would be curtailed if the Israeli lobby in Canada gets its way.

    Petition: Defend Canadian Free Speech from Israel’s representatives who would criminalize it

    To: The Conservative, Liberal, NDP & Green parties

    The Independent Jewish Voices of Canada wrote this petition concerning the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA). The CPCCA is planning hearings and a report to further repress attempts to support Palestinian human rights or criticize Israel.

    We ask people to please pass this petition on to others.

    The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA) is conducting eight hearings starting November 2 to December 14. “Witnesses” have been selected from some 150 submissions to further the CPCCA’s political agenda.

    Many of those critical of the CPCCA agenda to equate criticism of Israel or Zionism as anti-Semitism made submissions. To the best of our knowledge, they have all been excluded from the hearings.

    The CPCCA’s goal is to criminalize criticism of Israel and Zionism, not to hold impartial hearings.

    Therefore, we oppose the CPCCA as an ideologically biased organization with an agenda that will harm free speech and human rights activity in Canada.

    We oppose the CPCCA’s Orwellian distortion of anti-Semitism. It is a danger to both Canadian liberties and to the genuine and necessary fight against anti-Semitism.

  6. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on October 28th, 2009 at 8:12am #

    And, of course, mostly ‘jews’ decide which utterance shld be censored or person punished for saying it.
    And in spite of the fact that ‘jews’ have no connection with any of the shemitic peoples. tnx