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Dungeons of Shabak–Version 2.0 (or 3.0?)
Richard Silverstein
Tikun Olam


One of the most ‘sensational’ Shabak “spy” (you’ll see why I use quotation marks shortly) dramas of the past few months has been the “middle of the night” arrest of Israeli Palestinian community activist Ameer Makhoul–with the accompanying arrest of naturopathic pharmacist Omar Said–for allegedly spying against Israel for Hezbollah. This incident is part of a ritual repeated every few months by Shabak both to cow Israel’s Palestinian population into submission, showing them who’s boss, and also to condition Israel’s Jewish population to suspect the loyalty and trustworthiness of their fellow non-Jewish citizens. And it works. Everybody seems to play their part: the Shin Bet parades the suspects and takes credit for protecting the state from treachery; while Israeli Jews (most, anyway) learn the lesson that they should never see their fellow citizens as individuals worthy of respect and equal rights.

Those who follow such security cases will recall that before Makhoul, we had the case of Azmi Bishara, driven out of his homeland by a secret police ‘investigation’-vendetta which accused him of serious crimes without offering any evidence. The Shabak allowed him to leave the country rather than prosecute him, all the while trumpeting what a villain he had been. Those with longer memories will undoubtedly remember similar cases that preceded these. In fact, most Palestinian Knesset members at one time or another have formal police investigations opened against them based on similar, though slightly less lurid accusations. As I said, they’re about as regular as clockwork in Israel; something akin to the old FBI perp walks of ‘Commie bastards’ in the 1950s replete with short ‘shifty’ men desperately concealing their faces with their trenchcoats and their fedora.

A few months ago, I reported here on a new case involving Fada Sha’ar, a 27 year-old from the Golan Druze village of Magdal Shams, accused along with another resident of contact with a Syrian “intelligence agent,” who happened to be the Syrian government official responsible for the welfare of former Syrian residents of the Golan. The man’s father and mother were also arrested and accused of being his accomplices (more likely the secret police were attempting to exert leverage over him as the FBI did by arresting Ethel Rosenberg in the famous 1950s case).

This alleged intelligence agent had offered the boy help in finding a music school at which the boy could study the traditional Arabic oud. The funding of his studies by Syria was deemed a treasonous act causing irreparable damage to the State. On return from a break in his studies in France he was arrested for what in reality amounts to practicing a traditional Arab folk instrument. Of course, they gussied up the case with reports of secret meetings, threats to kidnap an Israeli soldier, etc.

As I wrote above, it’s as if the Shin Bet case officers are fans of pulpy spy thrillers. They take a real event like the capture of soldiers along the Lebanese border, dress it up with some updated facts and names, and attempt to pass it off as the latest example of Arab perfidy. What’s laughably ironic is that if these secret policemen were thriller writers they’d be laughed out of the room by their fellow writers: kidnapping Israeli soldiers? Been there, done that. Is that the best you can come up with? But the Shin Bet knows it doesn’t have to come up with anything truly convincing, it merely has to recycle old stories and a populace conditioned to react with suspicion and horror will, like Pavlov’s Dog, do the same when the conditioned response is properly stimulated.

Now, Ynetnews reports that Sha’ar and his colleague have been indicted and accused of being Syrian agents. As I wrote in my earlier post, read closely the language (the first example below is my translation of the opening sentence in the much fuller Hebrew version; the second from the English version) used to describe the alleged acts of these individuals and tell me whether Israeli reporters are acting as stenographers for the secret police or whether they are acquitting themselves credibly as members of the Fourth Estate:

Yet another connection between residents of the Golan Heights and Syrian intelligence uncovered.

Madhat Salah [the alleged Syrian handler]…operated both the father and the son who were arrested…

What was Sha’ar’s crime? He is alleged to have conveyed $500 each to three Israeli Druze families who have members in Israeli prisons. For this, the boy is alleged to have received an $800 payment. Within Israel itself, there is no doubt that there are many settlers who would consider it an honor to support convicted murderer heroes like Yigal Amir or Asher Weissgan with such funds. In fact, the Israeli group, Honenu does precisely this. Only when you’re a Golani Druze does such financial aid become an act of treason.

The indictment further accuses Sha’ar of receiving an e mail message from the Syrian suggesting that he kidnap an Israeli soldier. What did the boy do? He refused. And again, for this he stands to lose of major chunk of his life rotting in an Israeli prison system, in which he will become undoubtedly an even more embittered opponent of Israel than he is now.

The problem with Israeli coverage of such security stories is that it acts as a mere cipher for the security services. Reporters dutifully report what the Shabak tells them. While they may once in a while use terms like “alleged” or “reported” or concede the story is reported to them by the government, the clear preponderance of credibility is given TO the security apparatus. Hardly any given to the accused. You will struggle to find any quote from a source close to the victim. Not a family member, not a lawyer, not even a Palestinian human rights NGO. And if they do quote a lawyer he has not even been informed of the charges by the government so he can’t speak credibly on behalf of his client.

It’s all a sad charade of due judicial process. Even worse, it’s a charade of professional journalism. In most western media, an editor would not let such a story run without some semblance of balance including a statement from someone representing the victim. Only in Israel or perhaps nations like Russia, North Korea, Iran or Saudi Arabia, does journalism similarly cozy up to government power.

Only a few hours after the authorities unveiled this indictment, the Shabak trotted out a new set of Arab “traitors.” (Hebrew) The charges against these are perhaps even more ludicrous than those of our previous victims. Two Israeli Palestinians, residents of Shifar’am and Umm al-Fahm, stand accused of being unable to locate a weapons cache that was prepared for them near a traffic intersection. The Ynet report doesn’t even use the term “allege” in connection with this claim. It says: “the investigation established that…” It states that this is what happened with no qualifier. They were supposedly to use these weapons for a terror attack inside Israel. After being arrested they couldn’t even lead the investigators to the buried cache. As an aside, do you even believe that a U.S. police force would be willing to appear so foolish as to arrest criminals for possessing such a weapons haul when neither the police or the bad guys can find it?? What do you accuse them of? Where is the evidence? Only in Israel can such charges be made to stick in such circumstances.

The accused are also said to have been asked to recruit others to join Hamas and undergo training abroad. Where? Well, what nation does Israel need to smear these days? Turkey, of course. And did the victims agree to do this? Even the charge sheet against them concedes that they refused. Since when do you arrest someone for refusing to commit a crime? Only in the Land of Oz and Israel.

Maariv claims these guys received $120,000 (Yediot bafflingly claims $200,000) in return their services ten years ago. That’s right, some or all of this happened an eternity ago. And yet it’s being dredged up here by the Shin Bet for the first time. Talk about old news!

To be clear, it is entirely possible that there are Israeli Palestinians who might engage in a real crime of espionage. I am not claiming there are no such citizens who might endanger Israel’s security. I AM claiming that these victims are not them. Further, Israel’s security services are a joke perpetrated on the most powerless, most discriminated against.

Why? It’s no secret that political tension is at a boiling point both within Israel and the Middle East concerning the peace talks and the so-called “Iranian threat.” What better way to unite Israel’s population behind its government, military and secret police than stirring up fear of the Syrian menace? Any general or Shin Bet chief wishing to derail any chance of Syrian-Israeli peace talks need only gin up a little of this sort of mischief to make the public wary.

The only thing missing in these stories is an Iranian bogeyman. Couldn’t the Shin Bet have dredged up a suitable Iranian mullah offering wads of cash to Israeli Palestinians in return for spilling the secrets of Dimona? Don’t worry, that may come if things get bad enough.

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