Interview with the Shin Bet
1. My Interview with the Shin Bet (Patrick O'Connor) 2. Curfew Diaries: Thursday 1.27.05 (Donna) 3. Curfew Diaries: Saturday 1.29.05 (Donna) 4. Tree Planting Action in Biddu (Mansour Mansour) ---------------
1. My Interview with the Shin Bet (Patrick O'Connor)
Recently the Israeli authorities have begun searching for and arresting experienced ISM and international activists. My arrest and attempted deportation is another example of this. Evidently the Israeli authorities find nonviolent resistance and active support of Palestinian rights to be threatening. Despite claims to the contrary, they have adopted an unstated goal of breaking down and eliminating the ISM and other groups using nonviolence to support Palestinian rights.
During the past three years over 100 ISMers have been denied entry and 62 deported. At the same time Israeli authorities have launched a propaganda campaign against ISM and other activists, with attempts to falsely link them with terrorism. My recent interrogation by the Shin Bet shed some light on the tactics.
On the morning of January 25th I was taken from a Ben Gurion airport detention center to Maasiyahu prison in Ramle. I was put in a 20 foot by 10 foot cell with six other men served with deportation orders. After a few hours I was called from my cell without explanation. My legs were cuffed together and I was led out of my section to another building. I was taken into a room with two men in plainclothes. They closed the door, searched me thoroughly, and then set me down with the leg cuffs still on.
The two men were fit, had short hair and sport shirts - typical Shin Bet agents. Only one spoke, the other observed. He began by saying he's from the Shin Bet (Israeli domestic security services, or GSS), and he asked me if I knew why the Shin Bet was interested in the ISM. I answered that their interest was misplaced because the ISM supports nonviolent Palestinian resistance, and there should be no reason for Israel to oppose that. He laughed and said that the Palestinians might be nonviolent by day and violent by night. Then he started on the internationals, mentioning two incidents from 2003 that have been badly distorted and are often used by Israeli authorities to slander the ISM. He brought up the arrest of a "wanted" man in the ISM apartment in Jenin and the two British suicide bombers, people who had absolutely no connection with the ISM. He didn't seem interested in listening to my response (for details on these two incidents see www.palsolidarity.org at the frequently asked questions sections).
Instead he had read my affidavit to the court in 2003 from my appeal of my denied entry, and he claimed it said that I had participated in violent demonstrations. I responded that he had misread my affidavit, because it said clearly that I have participated in peaceful demonstrations that had been met with violence by the Israeli military. I also told him that if the "secret evidence" against me were revealed, it would not stand up to scrutiny.
He asked me if I had ever carried correspondence for "wanted men," helped wanted men to move about or given my passport for someone else to use. He asked if I had ever hit a soldier or thrown stones. He asked if I had ever received weapons or arms training. I answered with indignant no's, saying I was a nonviolent activist. He said "maybe you are a real peace activist but can you guarantee that others are?" I told him that ISM requires all activists to commit to using only nonviolent means.
He asked me for names of Palestinians working with the ISM. I told him that I was sure he had other sources of information and that I would not give him any information. He also asked me if I was familiar with Israeli peace activist Tali Fahima (jailed and accused of being in contact with "wanted" men from Jenin) and whether I had met Zakaria Zbedi (The head of El Aqsa brigades in Jenin). I said, "While I have heard of both, I have met neither." The interview ended and I was returned shackled to my cell.
There are issues I was afraid to discuss frankly during my interrogation - issues relating to Israeli violence, Israeli double standards, international law and the arrest of Tali Fahima. The Shin Bet agents are in a position of power over me as I sit in an Israeli prison. I know they may distort and manipulate things I say to punish me and achieve their goal of damaging the ISM. However, the inequality of power and threat of punishment is far less for me than it is for a Palestinian who goes through interrogation. I have governments, which will support me and prevent the worst abuses. I can afford a good lawyer, who I will be given access to. I have a strong support group and access to the media. I will also leave here and will not continue to live under Israeli control.
Over and over again we have seen that the international community will not protect Palestinians from Israeli abuses. They can be imprisoned arbitrarily and tortured. They are often denied access to lawyers, their homes, lands and their jobs. Freedom of movement can be taken away, and their families threatened with the same punishments. The media will not cover their story. Nor do Palestinians have an option to escape Israeli domination. Power and threats mean that the Shin Bet interrogation of a Palestinian will only produce incomplete and twisted information.
What disturbed me most about my interrogation with the Shin Bet agent, was his seeming certainty about his information. Not only do the Israeli authorities produce propaganda about the Occupation and about the ISM, but some of them appear to believe it themselves. The Shin Bet also seems to aim to intimidate by giving the appearance of being all knowing, but their "intelligence" is obviously badly flawed. Israeli intelligence is generated from collaborators, surveillance and interrogation. It serves the corrupt and corrupting goals of continued military occupation, land seizure, domination and manipulation.
Israeli intelligence treats all forms of opposition as threats to be eliminated. It labels all Palestinians as terrorists and all Israelis and internationals who work with them as collaborators with terrorism. This produces a distorted characterization of Palestinian society, lacking direct experience with real life Palestinians and failing to understand Palestinians as people with rights and aspirations.
The Shin Bet agent called me naive, but I think he is naive since he believes he can understand Palestinian society from a position of domination and inequality, and use that understanding to control and manipulate Palestinians, and eliminate all opposition to the Occupation.
2. Curfew Diaries: Thursday 1.27.05 (Donna)
I am writing this by candlelight in a family living room in the Palestinian West Bank town of Saida where I am currently under military-enforced house arrest, along with 3,500 others.
The living room of my adopted home is packed full of people. Grandma with the white scarf and wise face and several of her 13 children: four cheerful sisters with their various tribes of children, three younger brothers and several cousins.
They have no choice but to stay inside. If they open their front door they will be confronted by the machine gun of one of the hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers who invaded and occupied this sleepy farming town three days ago.
It is dark and cold but for the glow of the kerosene heater and two candles on the coffee table. That's because the army has cut the electricity. The women offer us coffee and a meal despite the fact that they haven't been able to shop for groceries. The shopkeepers were warned that if they open their shops their shops will be bombed.
This family asked that we stay with them in their home after being terrorised for several nights by the military. They figure that if internationals are present, then insha'allah (god willing), the soldiers will not smash their valuables, beat them or kill someone. But their greatest fear is that their home will be demolished, as is the fate of so many other Palestinian homes.
Tomorrow we enter the fourth day of the military operation in this town. It has thrown the lives of thousands of human beings into chaos, although I'm quite sure it hasn't made the news at home because no `white' people are involved.
I am here with three other internationals; two British women and a Canadian man. We are here to bear witness to this invasion and occupation, monitor and report the human rights abuses (of which there are many), advocate on behalf of the people, deliver food and aid and intervene in heated situations.
Despite the regular threats from machine gun wielding young soldiers, we have made a decision to defy the 24-hour curfew that has imprisoned these people in their homes. They cannot go on their balcony let alone go to their jobs, to the shops in the next town or to work their land.
The invasion of this town is an act of collective punishment, which is deemed a war crime under international law. The military says they are searching for `wanted' people of which there are eight from Saida.
After three days of heavy shelling, gunfire and house searches they have not managed to find any wanted men but have managed to terrorise little six-year-old Rihab, who hides under the table when she hears the soldiers come, the 75-year-old woman who begged us for bread today and Nasser, a 21-year-old student who cannot get out of the town to get to University.
So we defy the curfew, not only because it is illegal, but because human beings are locked behind doors need food, medication and many other things to survive. We are busy walking through the deserted streets where the people call to us from their windows and rooftops. We can see by their faces that they are relieved to see us. They tell us what they need and we try to find it somewhere and deliver it. One man requested that we accompany him as he fetched feed for his goats. We also enter homes to hear their stories and let them that some people are concerned for them.
I don't know how many days it will take before anyone notices that this little town is being seriously harassed by Israeli Government-sanctioned terror.
I don't know how many invasions, humiliations, deaths it's going to take before the world leaders realise that to achieve peace in the Middle East, it takes good will from both sides.
After all the rhetoric from politicians about peace following the Palestinian election, the people of Saida could be forgiven for being a little disillusioned.
They have not seen any good will from their potential partners, but rather the barrel of a gun that has removed their freedom for three days now, and for how many more days, we do not know.
3. Curfew Diaries: Saturday 1.29.05 (Donna)
It's now day five of the military invasion of Saida village, and the frustration, impatience and desperation of the local people are palpable.
The sense of powerlessness, which sits within everyone, is heartbreaking.
The 3,500 residents of this West Bank town were collectively kidnapped at 7am on Tuesday morning when an army of tanks and armoured military jeeps took over the town.
Loudspeakers were used to broadcast the command: no one leaves their home or lethal force would be used. It was as simple as that. Strategically placed snipers on rooftops enforced the rule with great success.
So for the next four days the families had to survive on whatever they had in the house.
No man could go to work. No woman could go to the shops; indeed no one could open a shop! No one could go to check on relatives. No one could go to a doctor. No grazier could feed their livestock. No farmer could tend the crops. No visitor to the town could leave. To look out your window was to risk your life. Imagine.
On day four the hunger set in. Many cupboards were bare and people needed food. This military operation was becoming a humanitarian disaster.
As we moved about the town asking for people's needs, they asked for the most basic: "please, can you make the soldiers leave so we are free to leave our home safely?"
Feeling helpless, we phoned anyone we could think of that could help end the siege or who had connections with anyone who could help. The lobbying that had begun on day one resumed in earnest. Israeli human rights groups applied pressure to military commanders and members of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament.
It seemed with all the national and international focus on the action in the Gaza Strip, Saida, under siege and starving, had been forgotten.
Finally, late yesterday afternoon there was a small breakthrough. The town was still under military occupation and cut off by roadblocks from the outside world, but the home curfew was temporarily lifted.
When the announcement was made, people gingerly started to step outside and then began to stream out of their doorways. The streets were full of relieved, smiling people, greeting each other with big hugs and handshakes with a cry of Il-Hamdilallah (thanks to God!). It felt like New Years Eve.
The shops became crowded and farmers rushed to their starving animals to assess the damage. But the army made it clear they were still in control of Saida. The temporary reprieve was on shaky ground. Armoured jeeps still patrolled the town, blocked off streets and several houses were still occupied by soldiers. Some soldiers told us that the curfew would be lifted for 24-hours, but could be imposed again at any time if there was any `trouble'.
The greatest frustration; there was still no freedom to leave the village.
Queues of people formed at the checkpoint who had been trapped in the village and needed to leave. They were refused.
21-year-old Nasser was one of the most desperate; he had to get to Nablus for his final exams at University which start today. Now he would miss out and perhaps jeopardise his upcoming graduation. There's also a group of final-year school students eager to make it for the first day of classes at the senior high school in the neighbouring village of Alhar. They can't get out, nor can the teachers at Saida Primary School get in, so the school was deserted.
And then there's Ahmed. He drives the school bus for the nearby town of Tulkarem. The school term resumes today, but he won't be there to do the rounds for the first day back after holidays.
Many others need to go outside the village for work or business. They are now losing wages, opportunities and perhaps their jobs.
They'll be stuck in the confines of Saida, now a military zone, essentially a prison, feeling nervous, uncertain and isolated.
PS: It's now Saturday night, the curfew has been reinforced. The uncertainty continues.
4. Tree Planting Action in Biddu (Mansour Mansour)
On the 24th of January, my village, Biddu, a small village in Northwest Jerusalem, decided to have a tree planting action on our land in the location where the Israeli government has decided to locate the new route of the Apartheid Wall. The route was changed following an Israeli Supreme Court order demanding that the Israeli authorities take into account Palestinians' needs when planning the route of the Wall. But the new route is actually worse for Palestinians than the original one because it confiscates more agricultural land. We started to march at 11 from the local village council to the eastern side of Biddu. Volunteers from the ISM and Israeli peace activists from Rabbis for Human Rights and Anarchists Against the Wall in addition to the local community.. There were no soldiers throughout the action and after a couple of hours we started to organize ourselves to return to the village.
The border police were standing at the entrance of the village... When the internationals were going back to Jerusalem they were stopped and asked to show there IDs and passports. A special unit of Israeli intelligence wearing civilian clothes arrested Pat because they claimed that his passport was fake. He was taken to the airport to be deported. The Israeli intelligence also claimed that he had been deported before which isn't true. He is now in a prison inside Israel and they insist to deport him to his country. The policy of deportation is being used by the Israeli intelligence to stop the internationals from seeing the reality of the situation here and they won't do it in front of the journalist or TVs. they want to do it silently....
Mansour Mansour is a non violent activist and organizer from Biddu.