Israel’s Operation Imam – Islamic Posts Filled by Secret Police

ob 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, reporting on political opinions they expressed in sermons and relaying gossip about their private lives.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa took his case to the tribunal after the Shin Bet rejected him three years ago as the imam of a mosque in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, despite his being the sole candidate. He was told after a security clearance interview that his views were “extremist” and too critical of Israel, even though an imam is not officially defined as a security-related position.

“During one interview with the Shin Bet, they told me they had been collecting information on me since I was 15,” Sheikh Abu Ajwa said.

“I am the first imam ever to challenge the Shin Bet’s role in our appointments. It’s important to win a precedent-setting ruling from the courts to stop this kind of interference.”

Michael Sfard, a human rights lawyer representing Sheikh Abu Ajwa, said that, as far as it could be determined, no similar vetting of rabbis took place before their hiring.

“This sort of surveillance relating to a non-security position like an imam comes straight out of the era of the Stasi police in East Germany or the McCarthy period in the United States,” he said.

The traditional independence of the local Islamic authorities was removed at Israel’s creation in 1948, when the government confiscated almost all waqf property — endowments of land and property used for the benefit of the Palestinian Muslim community — removing the main source of income for clerics, the Islamic courts and charitable services.

According to experts, as much as a fifth of Palestine’s cultivated land was waqf property before 1948. Israel passed most of it to Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund or sold it to developers.

Responsibility for hundreds of mosques, cemeteries and other holy sites, meanwhile, was handed either to the religious affairs ministry or to Islamic boards of trustees appointed by the government.

Today, most imams and all Islamic judges must submit to a security clearance interview before being awarded a state salary.

Israel’s Arab minority, one fifth of the population, have long charged that many of its Muslim leaders are little more than government placemen, whose Islamic learning takes second place to their co-operation with the authorities.

Sabri Jiryis, a historian of Israel’s early years, has noted that the boards of trustees repeatedly rubber-stamped government decisions to sell off Islamic property to developers. Most notoriously Jaffa’s board approved in 1971 selling an Islamic cemetery in Tel Aviv on which the Hilton hotel was built.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa said: “In Jaffa, the government appointed many clerics because they had proved their loyalty, though not to other Muslims. They sold off our property — but you can’t sell what belongs to Allah.”

Jaffa, which was once the commercial capital of Palestine, today has a population of nearly 50,000 residents, of which two thirds are Jewish and the rest Muslim.

The sheikh has been preaching at the seafront Jabalya mosque, one of six in the town, since he was 19, making him reportedly the youngest person to serve as an imam in Israel’s history. He qualified as an imam at an Islamic college in the Israeli Arab city of Umm al Fahm in 1998.

The local community universally backed him as the new imam when his predecessor retired three years ago, but he cannot be officially recognised, and is ineligible for a salary, without the interior ministry’s approval.

As part of his application, he was interviewed by a Shin Bet officer named “Dror” who, he said, waved at him a folder of confidential information collected by undercover inspectors. “We will decide who is the next imam,” Dror told him, according to Sheikh Abu Ajwa. The sheikh was asked mainly about his political opinions and demonstrations he had attended.

The Shin Bet’s assessment, revealed to the tribunal, was that Sheikh Abu Ajwa’s appointment “may jeopardise security and peace in Jaffa”. In addition, the agency told the Haaretz newspaper that the sheikh “has had a long involvement in hostile activity, which manifested itself in incitement against the state and its Jewish citizens”.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa said this was a reference to his position as the leader in Jaffa of the popular northern wing of the Islamic Movement. Its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, has raised the hackles of Jewish officials both by running a campaign warning of Israel’s intentions to take over the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and by promoting a boycott of parliamentary elections.

The head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, warned in 2007 that his agency’s role was to prevent any activities, including democratic ones, that worked against the interests of a Jewish state.

Yaakov Salameh, the head of the religious minorities department at the interior ministry, told the tribunal last month that his inspectors collected information on Muslim religious leaders, including rumours about their private lives, such as whether they had had an affair or beat their children. The information was then handed to the Shin Bet, which assessed whether they were suitable to be appointed.

Mr Sfard said it was an “extraordinary” admission, given that under Israeli law the criminal records of candidates for religious appointments could only be considered if the applicant agreed to the information being handed over.

David Baker, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, which is responsible for the Shin Bet, refused to comment on whether the appointment of rabbis followed the same procedures as those for imams.

Sheikh Abu Ajwa observed that many rabbis, particularly those in the settlements, said “very extreme things but no one spies on them. In fact, they have full government support.”

He admitted he was outspoken in his sermons, but said he had never broken any laws and never advocated violence. “I talk about our Palestinian identity and criticise the policies of the state in its treatment of us as a minority,” he said. “These are very sensitive things that they want to prevent us from talking about.”

During one Shin Bet interview, he said, he had been told: “We know everything about you, we are always watching you.”

The goal of such interviews was often to recruit Muslim clerics to become informers themselves, he added.

REf: Counterpunch

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 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). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

ISRAHELL: Israel bars Palestinian expert on settlements from travel abroad

Interior Minister Eli Yishai has banned Palestinian geographer Khalil Tufakji, a resident of Jerusalem, from traveling abroad for six months, citing unspecified security concerns.

The ban was issued on the recommendation of the Shin Bet security service and is based on 1948 Emergency regulations.

“Having been convinced that there is real concern that the exit of Mr. Khalil Tufakji from Israel may harm the security of the state, I order that he be banned from exiting the country until 2 August, 2010,”
the order reads.

Tufakji, 60, was summoned last week to a meeting at Jerusalem police headquarters in the Russian Compound. There, a man in civilian clothes calling himself Shadi, gave him the order.

The Shin Bet said that the man was a policeman.

Tufakji has for years been researching Israel’s settlement policy and the ways by which Palestinian land is taken over, as well as planning policy which discriminates against Palestinians.

He heads the cartography department of the Arab Studies Society, established in 1980 to document the social, political and cultural history of the Palestinians.

Since 1992 Tufakji has been part of Palestinian negotiating team on property borders, land and settlements. In addition to his research, he lectures in Israel and abroad and is often interviewed by journalists.

Tufakji says that he has no scheduled lectures abroad in the near future.

Palestinian activists say that the order against him is part of a policy of oppression by the Israeli authorities, targeting popular and public opposition to the occupation.

The Shin Bet said in response that “as far as we know the minister issued the order after reviewing relevant information and a recommendation by the Shin Bet that there is a significant security threat by the exit of the aforementioned person abroad.”

Ref: Haaretz

FIGHT ISRAHELL: Have Israeli Spies Infiltrated International Aiports? (WATCH OUT!)

Israeli Shin Bet spies uncovered in South African Airports working for EL AL airlines – PART 1

 

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 programme also featured testimony from Jonathan Garb, a former El Al guard, who claimed that the airline company had been a front for the Shin Bet in South Africa for many years.

Of the footage of the undercover reporter’s questioning, he commented: “Here is a secret service operating above the law in South Africa. We pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. We do exactly what we want. The local authorities do not know what we are doing.”

The Israeli foreign ministry is reported to have sent a team to South Africa to try to defuse the diplomatic crisis after the government in Johannesburg threatened to deport all of El Al’s security staff.

Mr Garb’s accusations have been supported by an investigation by the regulator for South Africa’s private security industries.

They have also been confirmed by human rights groups in Israel, which report that Israeli security staff are carrying out racial profiling at many airports around the world, apparently out of sight of local authorities.

Concern in South Africa about the activities of El Al staff has been growing since August, when South Africa’s leading investigative news show, Carte Blanche, went undercover to test Mr Garb’s allegations.

A hidden camera captured an El Al official in the departure hall claiming to be from “airport security” and demanding that the undercover reporter hand over his passport or ID as part of “airport regulations”. When the reporter protested that he was not flying but waiting for a friend, El Al’s security manager, identified as Golan Rice, arrived to interrogate him further. Mr Rice then warned him that he was in a restricted area and must leave.

Mr Garb commented on the show: “What we are trained is to look for the immediate threat – the Muslim guy. You can think he is a suicide bomber, he is collecting information. The crazy thing is that we are profiling people racially, ethnically and even on religious grounds … This is what we do.”

Mr Garb and two other fired workers have told the South African media that Shin Bet agents routinely detain Muslim and black passengers, a claim that has ignited controversy in a society still suffering with the legacy of decades of apartheid rule.

Suspect individuals, the former workers say, are held in an annex room, where they are interrogated, often on matters unrelated to airport security, and can be subjected to strip searches while their luggage is taken apart. Clandestine searches of their belongings and laptops are also carried out to identify useful documents and information.

All of this is done in violation of South African law, which authorises only the police, armed forces or personnel appointed by the transport minister to carry out searches.

The former staff also accuse El Al of smuggling weapons – licensed to the local Israeli embassy – into the airport for use by the secret agents.

Mr Garb went public after he was dismissed over a campaign he led for better pay and medical benefits for El Al staff.

A South African Jew, he said he was recruited 19 years ago by the Shin Bet. “We were trained at a secret camp [in Israel] where they train Israeli special forces and they train you how to use handguns, submachine guns and in unarmed combat.”

He added that he was assigned to “armed security” in the early 1990s. “Armed security is being undercover, carrying a weapon, a handgun and at that time as well, sounds crazy but we carried Samsonite briefcases with an Uzi submachine gun in it.”

Mr Garb claimed to have profiled 40,000 people for Israel over the past 20 years, including recently Virginia Tilley, a Middle East expert who is the chief researcher at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council. The think tank recently published a report accusing Israel of apartheid and colonialism in the Palestinian territories.

“The decision was she should be checked in the harshest way because of her connections,” Mr Garb said.

Ms Tilley confirmed that she had been detained at the airport by El Al staff and separated from her luggage. Mr Garb said that during this period an agent “photocopied all [her] documentation and then he forwarded it on to Israel” – Mr Garb believes for use by the Shin Bet.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the allegations. A letter produced by Mr Garb – signed by Roz Bukris, El Al’s general manager in South Africa – suggests that he was employed by the Shin Bet rather than the airline. Ms Bukris, according to the programme, refused to confirm or deny the letter’s validity.

The Israeli Embassy in South Africa declined to discuss evidence that it, rather than El Al, had licensed guns issued to the airline’s security managers. Questioned last week by Ynet, Israel’s largest news website, about the deportation of the airline official, Yossi Levy, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said he could not “comment on security matters”.

A report published in 2007 by two Israeli human rights organisations, the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism, found that Israeli airline staff used racial profiling at most major airports around the world, subjecting Arab and Muslim passengers to discriminatory and degrading treatment in violation both of international law and the host country’s laws.

“Our research showed that the checks conducted by El Al at foreign airports had all the hallmarks of Shin Bet interrogations,” said Mohammed Zeidan, the director of the Human Rights Association. “Usually the questions were less about the safety of the flight and more aimed at gathering information on the political activities or sympathies of the passengers.”

The human rights groups approached four international airports – in New York, Paris, Vienna and Geneva – where passengers said they had been subjected to discriminatory treatment, to ask under what authority the Israeli security services were operating. The first two airports refused to respond, while Vienna and Geneva said it was not possible to oversee El Al’s procedures.

“It is remarkable that these countries make no effort to supervise the actions of Israeli security personnel present on their territory, particularly in light of the discriminatory and humiliating procedures they apply,” the report states.

Ref: Counterpunch

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 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). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Barak: There is neither hunger nor crisis in Gaza

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet on Sunday that he felt that there was no crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“There is no hunger or crisis in Gaza,” he said during a security briefing. “More supplies pass through the border crossings today than did during some points of the last cease-fire. Only sensitive materials or construction materials are not transferred in.”

Shin Bet security service Chief Yuval Diskin also briefed the cabinet “An ongoing improvement has been felt in the Egyptian efforts to curb arms smuggling along the Philadelphi route,” he said, referring to a strip of land along the Gaza-Egypt border.

The Shin Bet director explained that the Egyptians replace the forces stationed at the border every few months to prevent soldiers from becoming too attached to the local population, and that several Egyptian officers have already been arrested on suspicion of having taken bribes.

Diskin also addressed the situation within Gaza, saying that tensions were rising between Hamas’ political leadership and the organization’s military wing. According to Diskin, the political leadership wants to engage in public relations and the military wing wants to arm itself and to achieve maximum results in efforts to gain the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Diskin added that Hamas’ “Damascus-based political leaders side with the military wing.”

Diskin also remarked that the chances that the Palestinian will successfully establish a unity government were very small, and that tensions raged between the factions over the elections and security issues.

Shin Bet: Hamas cracking down on Gaza rockets, but arming itself

Diskin also explained to the cabinet that Hamas was working to stop militants in Gaza from firing rockets at Israel, it was nevertheless taking the opportunity to reinforce its own strength in the coastal territory.

“Hamas is working against rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, but is simultaneously building its own force within Gaza and is trying to expand its rocket range, both through internal manufacture and the smuggling of proper weapons from Egypt,” Diskin told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The Shin Bet director added that Hamas was a particular interest in maintaining calm in the Gaza Strip at this time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the briefing by emphasizing that while the current cease-fire between Israel and Gaza was nearly absolute, it was still fragile and threatened by Hamas’ participation in arms smuggling.

“We are asked at all times to ease conditions for the Gaza population, to let in materials and equipment,” Netanyahu said. “But we have other interests in the Strip, and those have to do with security.”

“We do not want to strengthen Hamas, not in its capability, not in prevention, and not economically,” he added. “We want [abducted Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit back. We are examining the matter of border crossings and trying to find the balance between easing conditions for civilians while preventing Hamas’ rearmament.”

ref: haaretz

Revisiting the photo that exposed a Shin Bet lie

The photo that shocked Israel in 1984 and sparked a change in self-image.
Alex Levac

I’m returning here to my infamous Bus 300 photo, in which one sees – obviously alive and well – one of two Palestinian hijackers whom the Shin Bet security service claimed had been killed during a hostage rescue. I wouldn’t think of bringing the subject up again if it hadn’t been for the changes in Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinians over the last 25 years. The photo shocked the country in 1984 because it was proof of the lies and criminal acts of the security apparatus.

Who would respond these days with the same powerful emotion to the murder of two Palestinian bus hijackers as we did in those innocent times when every injury to a Palestinian, not to mention a killing, led to an investigation? Since then, mutual hatred has only worsened and summary executions have become routine. We have long become insensitive to death, of Jews as well as Palestinians.

Today the military censor would not close a newspaper for three days, as it did to the now-defunct Hadashot, which published the photo. And who would set up an investigative committee, who would punish those responsible, who would change the laws governing the Shin Bet? But the thought that evokes the greatest sadness is whether we can say with certainty in 2009 that the Israeli media is the watchdog of democracy.

The Bus 300 photo has been the high point of my career as a photojournalist. It’s not just that I collected a first-rate scoop; the picture sparked a change in the way Israeli society looked at itself. It confirmed the truth in the cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words.

A short philosophical remark is in order here about the essence of photographs. The power of this photo lies in what it doesn’t show, the moment after, the moment when skulls were smashed, an act former Shin Bet agent Ehud Yatom later admitted to. The moment of the unbearable lightness of death.

Ref: Haaretz

Zero Investigations (Israeli apartheid system at work)

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann presented the following disturbing statistics last Wednesday, the final day of the Knesset’s winter session: In 2005 and 2006, a total of 129 complaints were filed against Shin Bet security services interrogators. Not a single one reached the ministry’s Police Investigations Department (PID). Friedmann, who was responding to a question submitted by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), explained that none of the complaints “raised the suspicion of a criminal act.”

There is nothing new under the sun (or, in this case, far from the light of the sun). When Edna Arbel was state prosecutor, she told Haaretz that not a single one of the 100 complaints filed with the person in charge of reviewing complaints by interrogated suspects in 2000 and 2001 came in for criminal investigation. A few of the cases were passed on for disciplinary action.

The wholesale rejection of all the complaints must raise the question of a cover-up. “The figure is amazing,” Khenin said to Haaretz, “129 false complaints were made against the Shin Bet and not a single one deserved even to be investigated.” It can be assumed that the reason for zero investigations is that the reviewer works for the Shin Bet. Members of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel claim the reviewer has only two types of responses: There was no basis to the claims, or this was a case of a “ticking bomb” that justified the use of force.

The exemption from external oversight sends Shin Bet interrogators the problematic and dangerous message that they are immune from prosecution. The reviewer is subordinate to the State Prosecutor’s Office. This begs the question of whether the office is fulfilling its supervisory and critical function regarding the reviewer.

In 1999 the High Court banned the Shin Bet from torturing suspects or treating them in a cruel, humiliating or inhumane manner. However, the justice system does not take action against interrogators who apply force in “ticking bomb” situations. The Public Committee Against Torture claims that the Shin Bet’s interrogation methods are gradually returning to the period before the High Court ruling against torture. Is this correct? It’s hard to say. No external organization has checked.

On the other hand, there is no ignoring that many Israelis owe their lives to Shin Bet investigators. Israelis are once again free to shop in the malls and travel by bus safely, largely thanks to the impressive successes of the Shin Bet. But that organization is walking a thin line. The blood, honor and humanity of terror suspects are not at their disposal.

The power to decide on investigating complaints against interrogators must be taken out of the Shin Bet’s hands immediately. One option is to transfer the complaints directly to the PID. Now that there is a commissioner for handling complaints against judges, perhaps the time has come to appoint a commissioner for complaints against the Shin Bet. The post could be filled by a former military figure or someone connected to the Justice Ministry, but it must be someone whose career and livelihood are not dependent on the Shin Bet.

Friedmann promised Khenin that Justice Ministry staff would reexamine a sampling of the complaints. This examination is very important. It should be done soon and thoroughly, and the results should be made public.

ReF: Haaretz

Lieberman: Shin Bet could be behind settler violence

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said on Saturday that recent acts of violence by settlers near Hebron could have been perpetrated by Shin Bet undercover agents.

“I only want to say that the actions there appeared strange to me. I hope this isn’t a case of a ‘Champagne’ or of another Shin Bet agent,” said the right-wing lawmaker, speaking in an interview with Channel 2.

‘Champagne’ was the code-name for Avishai Raviv, an agent-informer the Shin Bet security service used to participate in, and even initiate, right-wing violence against Arabs in the territories, particularly in the Hebron-Kiryat Arba area of the West Bank, while filing reports to his controllers about radical Jewish activity.
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Last month, prominent settler leader Daniela Weiss claimed a pipe bomb attack against outspoken left-wing advocate Ze’ev Sternhell was masterminded by the Shin Bet to turn public opinion against the settlers.

In the TV interview, Lieberman also declared that Israeli Arabs are a greater problem for Israel than the Palestinians.

“We warned before the October [2000] riots, and also before the Acre riots, and I say today: At least to me it is clear that our central problem is not Palestinian at all,” he said.

“The subject of Arab Israelis is a complex, charged matter and we also need to sort it out.”

Lieberman was referring to the violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the northern city of Acre that erupted on the holiday of Yom Kippur last month.

He also said that the prompt apology that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres issued after he lambasted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is “tantamount to the behavior of a battered wife.”

Continuing his verbal assault on Egypt, Lieberman said that Cairo is preparing for war against Israel.

“It is obvious that Egypt is waiting for the right time to deploy troops in [demilitarized] Sinai.”

Following Liebereman’s comments, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Saturday that the peaceful relations with Egypt are a strategic asset.

“Egypt is a responsible and important player in the Middle East, and Lieberman’s comments are irresponsible. Even electioneering should not compromise our delicate and important relationship with the Egyptians,” Barak said.

Ref: Haaretz