Controversy over Shin Bet involvement in Hilltop Youth program
Education Ministry’s Hebrew Shepherd program created to ‘take Hilltop Youth out of cycle of nationalistic crime.’ But Education Ministry claims Shin Bet personnel using program for operational purposes. ‘This is just another way to track us,' one teen says
According to sources in the Education Ministry, Israel's secret service is using the program to collect data on the youths, in essence, turning the program from ah educational tool into an operational tool. This destroys the program’s chances for success, and prevents the youth – who see the intelligence organization as the "enemy" – from cooperating.
- Shin Bet to educate Hilltop Youth
The Shin Bet was asked to take part in the program by the Education Ministry itself, which thought up the NIS 4 million Hebrew Shepherd program, together with other governmental agencies, over the past year. The goal of the program is to provide an educational and welfare-oriented response to the youth from Judea and Samaria, within the framework of what is being called “efforts to overcome the phenomena of nationalist crime.”
In a letter from the ministry to the relevant parties, including the IDF, the police, the Shin Bet and the Justice Ministry, each body was ordered to send a representative to a committee which will run the program. Yet, even with the good intentions, there are those within the Educational Ministry who wonder what the contribution of the intelligence services, and especially of the Shin Bet, is to the educational effort.
Hilltop Youth in action, archives (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
“The basic idea is definitely good, but beyond that is the fact that anyone who is somewhat familiar with these youth understands that if the Shin Bet is involved in the program, its chances of success are nil. It creates a situation where you are sitting with a Shin Bet agent in meetings and he rightly is not willing to share information, but hears from us exactly what happens the field," said a Ministry of Education source.
The program's existence was revealed by Avraham Benjamin from the Basheva newspaper. "It was decided to do mappings and review exactly who the boys in the field are, and where they congregate. Of course, once we reach these boys, who from the start are very suspicious, the first question is, what is the involvement of the Shin Bet," he wrote.
He added, "This information is a treasure trove to the Shin Bet, not just to get general information about the youth, but also to get other sensitive information that can be used to contact them." He added that during discussions about the program, questions arose regarding the very presence of the Shin Bet in the forum, which was only supposed to provide an educational answer to the issue.
"It looks really off-center. What is the connection between an intelligence-security organization and youth welfare issues? We respect their role and the need for preventing illegal activities, but there is education and there is security. The feeling is uncomfortable. For the representatives of the Shin Bet it is also not always comfortable. I'm not sure if people sent as representatives would not waive the pleasure of participating in this program,” he said.
Among the Hilltop Youth, who the program is supposed to turn into “youth full of inspiration and positive influence," as is written in the documents issued by the Ministry of Education, there is doubt cast upon the chances of success of the ministry personnel, if they work in cooperation with the Shin Bet.
According to one of the boys who lives in Givat Benyamin, "From our perspective it was clear from the outset that this is just another way to track us, as if we are 'enemies' of the people. They like to say that we are not democratic, but I do not see where democracy is when the Shin Bet works with the Education Ministry on something that is supposed to help teenagers. Obviously no one will ever be willing to talk to these people. It would have been better to invest money in the construction of more settlements. "
The Shin Bet said in response, "The claim that this is about a Shin Bet operational program against the Hilltop Youth is baseless. The Shin Bet is not a member of the inter-ministerial team managing the Hebrew Shepherd program. The program is managed by the Education Ministry, which invites representatives from the defense bodies, including the Shin Bet, from time to time and at its discretion, to participate in the discussions as needed."
The statement also said, "The purpose of the program is to bring to fruition the responsibilities of the various ministries in education and welfare, as part of the supportive systemic therapy of the country in the Hilltop Youth, and not in a security context."
An Education Ministry official declined to comment.
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