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Shin Bet threatens Bedouin activist, offers money to prevent protests

Agents of Israel’s security services raid the homes of several young Bedouin activists, summon them for ‘friendly chats’ and attempt to coax them into suppressing protests they claim undermine the ‘fundamental principles of the state.’ 

By John Brown*

Mounted Israeli policemen chase a Bedouin youth during a protest against the Israeli government's Prawer Plan, on road 31 on November 30, 2013 near the town of Hura, Israel.

Mounted Israeli policemen chase a Bedouin youth during a protest against the Israeli government’s Prawer Plan, on road 31 on November 30, 2013 near the town of Hura, Israel. (photo: Activestills.org)

It’s Tuesday, just after midnight in the Bedouin town of Lakia in the Negev Desert. Black jeeps carrying approximately 15 plainclothes Shin Bet agents come to a screeching halt in front of one of the houses before bursting into it. The agents wake all the residents, including a young girl with a flashlight to her face, and take all the men outside. The men are forced to line up facing the outer wall of the house while the agents search them.

The agents demand to know the whereabouts of R., one of the brothers in the family. The men do not know. An agent who presents himself as “Haim” (a pseudonym) instructs one of them to phone R. and demand that he come home. R. doesn’t even live in this house, and the men refuse to call him. Haim happens to have R.’s number on his phone, so he makes the call instead.

R., who works as an organizer at the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, eventually arrives at the family home, where he sees his brothers lined up against the wall. Haim hands him a Shin Bet summons for questioning, a “chat,” two days later. In a conversation following the incident, R. said that when he asked the agent why he was summoned, Haim answered: “Think for yourself about what you did — you know,” as if he were his school teacher.

R., it turns out, had no idea what Haim was talking about. “Maybe it has to do with work,” he told me later on, although it was clear that Haim’s request had far more to do with threatening R. than work-related issues.

‘I need the protests to stop’

Although there is no legal requirement to show up for these “chats,” the threatening nature of the summons, which the Shin Bet agents said would repeat itself, was enough to make R. show up for the interrogation last Thursday, hoping to understand what it was all about. Very quickly, he understood that Haim was not planning to interrogate him about anything specific. “The conversation was friendly. Haim asked about my life, friends, work, and studies,” R. tells me.

Throughout the conversation, Haim explained to R. that he knows he was one of the organizers of the Hura protest two years ago against the Prawer Plan, a government plan to expropriate large tracts of Bedouin land and displace their residents. Haim told R. that the Shin Bet is tracking his phone and asked to see the numbers on it. R., however, had been wise enough not to bring his phone to the interrogation. Then Haim began mentioning the names of R.’s family members one by one, even those he did not recognize.

At this point Haim began threatening R. over the latter’s participation in protests. He even used perfect Arabic when he used the expression: “Play with anything, just don’t play with your father’s dick.” The father in this case is the Shin Bet; R. explains that Haim was essentially telling him he could do anything aside from participating in political activities, which are likely to get him in trouble with the security services.

Bedouins living in the Negev Desert demonstrate in front of the Be'er Sheva Court calling for the release of Day of Rage arrestees, Israel, December 5, 2013. According to the government's plan, many of the residents of unrecognized Negev villages will be evicted, lose their land, and be forcibly relocated to planned communities. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Bedouins living in the Negev Desert demonstrate in front of the Be’er Sheva Court calling for the release of Day of Rage arrestees, Israel, December 5, 2013. According to the government’s plan, many of the residents of unrecognized Negev villages will be evicted, lose their land, and be forcibly relocated to planned communities. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

At one point R. says that Haim began to ask him about his work in the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. “How are the salaries there? Is it enough for you to live off?” asked Haim, explaining that he could solve R.’s financial troubles. This was the beginning of Haim’s attempt to recruit R. to work with the Shin Bet. “You are a prominent leader. I need these protests to not happen,” said Haim, getting to the actual point of of the summons and interrogation.

The stick: we are watching you. The carrot: cooperate with us and we will reward you.

R. politely refused and an hour later the interrogation was over. At the exit he met “Captain Tahar” (pseudonym), who at the time was interrogating M., another political activist from the Negev. In the days following the break-in to R.’s home, the Shin Bet made similar visits to other towns in the Negev.

These are not isolated incidents, and the Shin Bet’s policy of issuing summonses and warning interrogations did not begin this week. A., who previously held R.’s position at the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, was summoned for an interrogation in 2012. He was also invited for a “clarification chat,” where he was strip-searched and asked similar questions. Since A. happened to bring his phone, the interrogator looked through his contacts and asked A. to call a specific person. The reason for doing so was unclear. The interrogator then suggested that A. “pray” not to be summoned again. His prayers weren’t answered, although the next time the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) intervened and managed to cancel the summons.

Fighting ‘subversion’

Back in 2010, ACRI asked the attorney general to put an end to “the illegitimate use of Shin Bet interrogations to dissuade citizens from legitimate political activities.” The practice has since continued. ACRI petitioned the High Court of Justice in 2013 against the practice, claiming that “a summons for a friendly chat ‘over a cup of tea’ with the secret services is not characteristic of a democratic regime.

Last May the Hight Court held its first hearing on the petition, during which Justice Zilbertal asked the state representative whether political activists who protested against the Prawer Plan had been summoned to interrogations. The state’s response was unclear. At first, State Attorney Briskman responded that “… there are protests that have nothing to do with state security. The same goes for Prawer.” However, in response to a question later on by Justice Hendel, Briskman said: “It is not that every activist was summoned. We are talking about isolated cases.” Either way, Briskman’s initial response is embarrassing, since he was asked how it could be that some protests are seen as having to do with state security.

The Shin Bet claims that it is authorized to hold these kinds of threatening conversations with activists involved in “subversion,” a term that casts a very wide net. In 2007, then head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, explained it this way: “The service’s position is that the category of ‘subversion’ may also contain attempts to undermine the fundamental values of the state by negating either its democratic or Jewish character, as an act of subversion against the democratic regime and its institutions.” Any act that promotes civic equality could easily fall under that category by challenging the Jewish character of the state — which inherently privileges its Jewish citizens.

According to the Shin Bet, the definition of “subversion” was updated in 2009 and no longer includes activities against the Jewish character of the state. But this is merely a cosmetic difference. Since then the Shin Bet has claimed that it summonses activists for threatening conversations only if they take part in a protest that may end up turning into a riot with nationalist undertones, or a riot that could potentially take place during times of tension. But because Israel is constantly facing security tensions, the Shin Bet has a free hand to act as it wants. Furthermore, most protests by Arab citizens are nationalistically motivated, which means the Shin Bet can get involved whenever and however it wants. When it came up in the High Court hearing, the state argued that activities against Prawer fell under this category, since they may “develop into clashes between Jews and Arabs,” without ever explaining the basis for such a claim.

Even worse than the Shin Bet authorizing itself to exercise such powers is, like in the case of R., the fabricated claim that it summonses activists to prevent them from taking part in illegal activities. R. does not take part in such activities. His interrogation was intended to preempt him from taking part in some vague political activity in the unforeseen future in order to recruit him as an informant. This is one of many attempts that is destroying Arab society from within, leading to violence and a lack of trust, a direct contradiction of the rule of law.

It is important to emphasize that the powers the Shin Bet has taken on, while exploiting the security situation — especially in the wake of the terrorist attack in Be’er Sheva — is only a taste of what is to come. Even if today we are only seeing attempts to scare and suppress Arab political activists, it is likely that these same tools will be used against other protest movements on both sides of the political map in the future.

‘A short, friendly chat’

The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality issued the following response to the summonses and interrogations:

Summoning central activists from the Bedouin community, as well as human rights activists, to Shin Bet interrogations constitutes a fatal blow to the Bedouin community’s right to protest, organize, and struggle for its future. It is inconceivable that the the Bedouin workers in an Arab-Jewish organization be summoned to a Shin Bet interrogation on a regular basis, months after starting the job, and be harassed by the authorities.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel issued the following response:

The Shin Bet acts illegally and takes advantage of its power when it summonses people for interrogations without any authority. It is important to emphasize that there is no obligation to come to these conversations, and those who choose to attend are not obligated to respond to questions or cooperate in any way. The goals of these conversations are illegitimate — to dissuade people from taking part in legitimate political protests on one hand, while also trying to recruit them to cooperate with the Shin Bet on the other. This is why we asked the High Court to order the Shin Bet to stop summonsing people to these kinds of conversations.

The Prime Minister’s Office, which handles all press queries on behalf of the Shin Bet, responded to R.’s claims as follows:

R. was summoned for a conversation with a Shin Bet agent. The summons was personally delivered by a representative of the Shin Bet and representatives of the Israeli Police outside his house. As opposed to your claim, the children were not taken out of their beds nor were the men forced to stand in a line near the wall. Instead, the agents had a short, friendly chat with R. and his brothers. At no point was R. told that he was obligated to attend the meeting. The conversation with R. was no-nonsense and dealt with issues that the Shin Bet is responsible for, due to the worsening security situation, and a fear of events that may disrupt the public order. We would also like to clarify that, despite your claims, R. was not asked about political issues, and there was no attempt to recruit him.

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and a blogger. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read it here.

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    1. Lauren

      This is very disturbing and worrisome. The foundations of this “democratic” state are rumbling and crumbling. As a member of the NCF and a citizen of Israel, I strongly protest such interrogations. The Supreme Court must uphold the democratic values of this country and the right of all its citizens to take part in legitimate protests.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      Didn’t USA fight Russia and Germany for these kinds of behaviors? Israel is not a democracy. It plays with words, it uses phrases that leave room to wiggle or escape entirely. Such as “the greatest democracy in the Middle East” (not the greatest, just the best one around here, where they are ALL crappy) or “democratic AND Jewish” (guess which of these will always dominate the other), or referring to West Bank as Judea and Sumeria (so it can step around regulations referring to The West Bank, it’s not the West Bank, it’s Judea and Sumeria), or setting policy for “The Land Of Israel” (which does NOT mean the current State of Israel, it means very much larger territory that Israel doesn’t even control but feels it is owed, and foreshadows Israel’s expansionist plans).

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        America wasn’t a democracy during WW2.

        America rounded up American citizens of German and Japanese origins and put them into internment camps because it considered those citizens to be a security risk. That’s war for you. Have you anything to say about that, you so called Anerican? You are not really American are you? Otherwise you would have been aware of that..

        Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          Then do that. Put Arabs in internment camps. Take clear action. Be up front with what you’re doing. Final solution.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Nah Average. If we would do that, we would never hear the end of it from haters like you.

            You’d be on to us like a rash even more.

            But in any case, I proved my case to you. Nobody treats their enemy the same way as their own during war times. You simply cannot refute that point you hypocrite!

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          • Average American

            Point taken. You have shown that neither of our countries are democracies during war. I accept. Our governments, especially during war, tell us things to whip us up and drumbeat our views so that some actions become acceptable to us that normally would sicken us, and some people become unacceptable to us that normally would be our friends and neighbors. Seems we have something in common after all.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Good post. But that applies to Arabs too.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Israel is not at war with the Palestinians. It is belligerently occupying them. All Gustav’s excuses for monstrous behavior in the service of land theft hide behind the “war” premise but the premise is false. A shallow propaganda device. Now Gustav will come back spluttering with 50 shades of tedious nonsense and outraged false-victimhood-peddling and demanding refutation of this and that aspect, trying to make the idea fixee he has–that what the Israelis are engaged in is a “war” not a brutal, criminal occupation–a vibrant “contested issue” rather than a dead letter.

            Kind of like the hasbara that the occupied territories are “disputed.” Well, no. They’re occupied. Illegally. Since 1967. That the Israelis purposefully and with great deliberate effort and planning by their successive elected governments dug a hole they now have trouble climbing out of does not negate the illegality, the criminality, the brutality, the cruelty. Those are broadly accepted facts outside of the hothouse of the Israeli right wing mind and the mind of folks like Ben Carson who thinks if the German Jews only had had some shotguns in theirs attics they could have stopped the predations of the Waffen SS, and next up burbles that Egyptian pyramids were granaries not tombs, because why? Well because of nothing. And we are now learning he has invented quite a few “facts” about himself that cannot be accounted for. Birds of a feather flock together.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Ah ok then this is a new Benny low.

            So for the last 100 years we were at peace with them right Benny?

            So tell me this, if we are not at war with the Palestinian Arabs then why did they come up with the Arab PEACE initiative huh, Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”Israel is not at war with the Palestinians”

            …so there they were, the Palestinian Arabs were just minding their own business. They didn’t hurt a fly. Then one day, back in 1967, along came the eeeevil, greeeedy, land thieving Israelis and occupied them innocent poor little daaarlink Benny’s Palestinians and started stealing their lands. That’s how it all started huh Benny-leh?

            How does one argue with an idiot who makes up his own facts and ignores real history?

            Are you related to Goebbels, Benny? Or did you work for Pravda?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Folks can go to almost any series of posts by ‘Yeah Right’ in these +972 commentaries for a thorough and patient trouncing of the “war” versus belligerent occupation distinction. We’ve been there. Done that. Old news. But don’t think it will stop Gussie. He’ll just keep coming at you. With tedious distortions, off the point statements, emotional ploys, and abusive language. Already he’s calling me Goebbel’s relative. A new low in as*h*l*istic name calling. Before that I was, obsessively, “you racist little twerp.”
            He won’t quit ever no matter how logically refuted he is. Just go to any one of the exceedingly lengthy ‘Yeah Right’-Gustav brouhahas and see for yourself. It is almost always a waste of time to engage further. Except for purposes of humor. I’ve said what I have to say: Since 1967 Israel is not at war with the Palestinians. It is belligerently occupying them. All of Gustav’s excuses for the monstrous behavior of the IDF-Settler Complex hide behind the “war” premise but the premise is false. It is a propaganda device.

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          • Ben

            This is NOT “war”–this is occupation:


            “Adei Ad is a microcosm of the occupation: it represents the settlement policy of the Israeli government, which incentivizes felons to invade land and take it over. It then rushes to provide them with IDF protection and basic utilities. Then the outpost expands. At first, the Palestinians are prohibited from entering the outpost itself; then, they are barred from entering its security perimeter; following that they are forbidden to enter nearby land, unless the army allows it and in coordination with it. And after all that come the threats and attacks on farmers who did not yet get the hint and continued working their land near the outpost.”

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          • Ben

            Average American, I appreciate your humility and good faith and it testifies to your good character despite the appalling attempts of others here to call you all sorts of cheap names–they will never apologize–your sincerity shines through–but the premise is wrong, the premise that Israel is engaged in a “war” and that the historical framework of Germany and Japan versus the U.S. Of A in the 1940s applies here. This has been the favorite rhetorical device of any number of Israeli right wing extremists here. A guy named Jello used to wax on about the unconditional surrender of Japan (read Japan = Palestine). Gustav’s big idea is to invoke the lands in present day Poland that unconditionally defeated Germany surrendered, equating Ariel in the West Bank to Gdansk/Danzig. An extraordinary load of malarkey. None of them can explain the lack of American settlements on Japanese or German territory. The WWII analogies are meant in Jello’s case to just come right out with it and say we are conquering and they are surrendering. Get over it. End of story. The WWII analogies in Gustav’s case are meant to lure one into the idea that the Israeli State’s and its Israeli soldiers’ and its settler’s behavior is “not so bad” because “we are at war.” The settlements are not brazen land theft, they’re spoils of war and advanced positions in enemy territory (see how incoherent it gets). Those protesters in Bil’in and Nebi Saleh are “combatants”–“shoot ’em.” Anything goes. “We are at war.” This is the propaganda trick.

            It’s not “war.” It’s an occupation.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            This is how Benny responded to me on another thread when I mentioned our ex prime minister’s (Ehud Barak) peace offer offer. Benny’s response was that the offer was worthless because it…

            “Unwilling to pay a fair price for peace”

            At that stage, Benny did not seem to be in denial about the WAR. Now he is upset because there appears to be momentary consensus about something, between me and another poster on his side of politics. He just cannot stand that. I can hear Benny’s gnashing teeth, LOL.

            That comment of Benny’s real position about peace and negotiations.

            According to Benny, the Palestinian Arabs would NOT benefit from a peace deal. ONLY WE would. Therefore the Palestinian Arabs can, sell us PEACE as if it is just a commodity that ONLY WE need. Much like the mafiosi sell protection racket.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            If Israel is NOT at war, Benny-leh then I take it that the so called Arab peace initiative is just a fiction?

            Aside: 100 years of terrorism by Palestinian Arabs against us, even before the occupation, was not war. It was just the Palestinian Arabs being high spirited and murdering us everytime they were in a bad mood, huh Benny? Oh and they never resisted the idea of the Jewish state and they never engaged in violence to try to stop it from coming to existence and once it did come into existence, they never engaged in war against us to try to terminate the existence of the Jewish state.

            Nah, none of that happened according to Benny. Why not? Because it upsets his arguments. And whenever ANYTHING upsets Benny’s argument, he does one of two things or maybe both…

            1. He denies like there is no tomorrow.

            2. He quotes someone who agrees with his silly position.

            That according to Benny, is sufficient proof.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      Ben and Gustav: I appreciate the lively debate here. Don’t misunderstand me, my second post does not diminish my first, yet I’m not the only voice here. I say Israel is at war, civil war, because no one is in control and Israel looks like a third world banana republic. I admit both countries (USA and Israel) have done un-democratic things. I won’t say Israel is FOUNDED on democratic principles, it isn’t, it’s founded for the benefit of one ethnicity/race. I don’t think that’s true for both countries. Regarding comparisons to WW2, that’s been done by me and by others and we find the only similarity for Israel is to Germany’s Arian-nation lebensraum and the resistance it encountered. Ok guys, your turn!

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Yes Average. Israel has been created specifically to be a Jewish majority state.

        Why? Because historically, as a minority we were persecuted, discriminated against, massacred and there have even been attempts to exterminate us.

        In Israel, none of that can happen without a heavy price tag to those who try to make it happen. And your persistent attempt to smear us with the tag of racial superiority because of our reaction to racial hatred against us, is in itself dishonest and disgusting. No, I’ll go further than that. It is a racist sentiment by you. Because every country in this world has a dominant majority ethnic group who by the way insist on remaining the majority. Yet you only object to the idea of a Jewish majority state. Why is the idea of one, only one Jewish majority state in this world so repellent to you? Maybe because you are racist yourself?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You don’t want a Jewish majority state you want a Jewish supremacist state. That’s what the non-democratic Jewish Nation State Law is all about. On the face of it. There is no contradiction between a Jewish majority state and a fair two state solution. In fact the only road to the former is the latter. Your contradictions expose themselves.

          Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          Gustav: I would object also to USA being named The White (majority) States of America, created for The White Race. Sure White People live happily and productively all over the world, but we want, we DESERVE, one special place in the whole world just for OUR kind. See how it looks? It looks bad. It looks racist and self-superior.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Benny, your post does not even warrant a response. You are a racist and a liar. You are beneath contempt and you are not even embarassed about it. Never mind, I know how to deal with the likes of you.

            Average: tell me the last time American whites were nearly exterminated for being white? Come back to me and tell me what you are telling me now after the whites go through what we as a people went through for being Jewish over the last 2000 years.

            Reply to Comment
          • Average American

            Gustav: Please come back to the point we and the article are discussing. It is not the history of Jewish people. I’m tired of that argument because whatever happened was not done by me and I don’t owe you a country for it. I don’t owe you anything. Neither does the entire USA population and entire German population and whoever else is sending you money, when it could be spent for our own roads, education, etc. You went on a tangent when I offered how USA would look if it followed your ideology.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Ya want me to come back to your point, Average?

            Ok you asserted a bold lie about why Israel was created and I corrected you. You don’t want me to repeat our treatment at the hands of Arab people as well when we were minorities? Then stop lying about the purpose of our country.

            As for what you owe us or don’t owe us, I am not interested. The land that Israel is on is part of our ancestral homeland. It is OUR land be glad that most of us are not in the business of claiming the rest of the land which was ours some time before you, the Arab people colonized our lands.

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