Saturday, April 25, 2009

Israeli Intelligence


"I have to tell you, there is a real chance you will get arrested." How can anyone resist a come-on like that? So I joined my friend David Shulman and an intrepid band of students on Ta'ayush's minibus to Hebron this morning.  

It seems--so David explained--there are settlers from Kiryat Arba encroaching yet again on the land of an Arab family. The settlers have even thrown up a temporary shack to squat in. Our mission improbable was to occupy the shack and then wait for the police to tell us to leave--which we would refuse to do, unless the illegality of the structure would be acknowledged and (such are our dreams) the shack taken down.

EXCEPT THAT WE never got much beyond the first checkpoint to Hebron after the settlement-suburb of Har Homa. We were met by a police car that stopped our minibus. A cheerful officer (pictured here)  showed us an order that declared the whole area we were riding in a closed military zone--an order that seemed to apply only to us, since none of the other vehicles around us were stopped. 

One of the students, who obviously knew what she was about better than any of us, challenged the order, since it stated a zone adjacent to a different checkpoint. So the officer confiscated our IDs, and ordered us to follow him to the checkpoint to which the order did apply. Once we got there, his commander formally presented the order to us again.  We got our IDs back; turned around and regrouped. At another checkpoint, we met up with some other Ta'ayush activists, who told us that one small group had gotten through. Our minibus, as things turned out, proved to be a kind of decoy.
 
NOT THE MOST productive way to spend a Sabbath morning, perhaps, but revealing in a way that is almost too silly, and serious, to believe. Why was our minibus, of all vehicles, stopped? There are only two possibilities. The first is that every Palestinian-registered van carrying Israeli-looking people (with no knitted yarmulkes, driving on the Sabbath) is stopped, since this must mean "peace activists"; that the police are now closing the West Bank to protest, though not to settlement. The second possibility (which David strongly believes to be the case) is that some of Ta'ayush's leaders have their phones tapped, or that the intelligence services had our meeting place under observation, and the police were on the lookout for just our group. 

Either case, clearly, would represent yet another way the occupation threatens ordinary democratic principles, though the second (after a pleasurable, if momentary, narcissistic buzz) is truly chilling.