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Shin Bet opens up about border interrogations, detentions

Shin Bet reveals numbers of foreigners detained at border-crossings, says it does not deviate from its authority or deal with phenomena such as BDS or ask about political preferences.

The Shin Bet released an unusual statement in which the organization firmly rejects allegations it had illegally detained left-wing activists at entry points into Israel.



The intelligence organization's publication comes after Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber's delivered a letter to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel following the detention of seven Leftist activists at border crossings over the past month.


Shin Bet logo
Shin Bet logo


The letter also mentions the detention of prominent American-Jewish commentator who has been critical of Israel's policies, Peter Beinart.


According to Zilber's letter, the Shin Bet will be required to follow renewed protocols regarding the detention of political activists at the airport or land crossings.


In addition, the Shin Bet will be allowed to question activists only if there exists unequivocal intelligence data indicating that the detainees intend to take part in protests that are likely to become violent.


The letter also stressed that the Shin Bet is forbidden to question detainees regarding their political preferences or how they feel regarding various politicians as well as legal activities of Israeli civil society organizations.


The letter states that the Shin Bet "is obligated to follow the law and to act with prudence and the sensitivity required in such cases."


Dina Zilber (Photo: Yair Sagi)
Dina Zilber (Photo: Yair Sagi)


"Accordingly, decisions regarding questioning a person and carrying out an investigation will proceed only after all the unique aspects of the matter in question are considered, including the required balance between the potential violation of his legal rights and the country's security interests … regardless of the person’s political affiliations," the letter elaborated.


Addressing the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, Zilber stated that the Shin Bet has repeatedly emphasized that it does not question BDS activists only for being such, since the delegitimization issue is not part of its mandate.


"Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman instructed that the detention of Peter Beinart and seven others be examined. Following that, the Shin Bet announced that it will re-examine its procedures together with the relevant officials and implement a control mechanism in its protocols.


Peter Beinart (Photo: AP)
Peter Beinart (Photo: AP)


Zilber emphasizes that the questioning of Israeli citizens or permanent residents at the border crossing will only be carried out in cases where there is no other conceivable opportunity to summon them for questioning at a different time and place, or when there exists an intelligence or operational necessity to conduct the questioning at the border crossing or airport.


Moreover, detainees should be treated appropriately and with respect, while making sure that they endure the minimum possible wait time, from the time they were detained up to their questioning.


The letter acknowledges the Shin Bet's legal right to conduct interrogations based on its duty to thwart and prevent illegal activity, violence, whether it is nationalistically motivated or terror-affiliated. However, it is not the duty of the Shin Bet to addresses delegitimization or protest activities.


According to the letter, the Shin Bet said that its questionings are conducted after exercising judgment and examining the intelligence on the activist, as well as the current risk he or she poses and the expected benefit in the short and long run of conducting the questioning.


The Shin Bet adds that its interrogations are not meant to prevent protest, but are focused on preventing violent nationalistically motivated or terror-affiliated illegal activities, based on intelligence data.



Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman


In the statement published by the Shin Bet, the organization reversals the scope of the interrogations it has conducted of left-wing activists' at Israel's borders and emphasized that it "reviews the powers it has, updating its policy from time to time regarding the handling of both radical left and right wing activists in accordance with the security circumstances."


"To avoid any doubt, The Shin Bet did not receive any instructions on the matter from its defense establishment overseers, and that all of the organizations' activities on the matter were carried out according to its duty and authority," they elaborated.


The statement explained that the agency is responsible for the state's security and defending its democratic government and institutions from terror threats, espionage and subversion.


Furthermore, the statement revealed that during 2018, some 260 foreign nationals were denied entry into Israel on suspicion of involvement in terror and espionage; as oppose to 336 throughout 2017.


Seventeen foreign nationals were barred from entering Israel this year so far, due to their radical left wing activity.


Ben Gurion Airport (Photo: Udi Davidovich)
Ben Gurion Airport (Photo: Udi Davidovich)


"The shin Bet's activity at the border crossings is critical for thwarting and preventing terrorist activity and espionage by foreigners, and therefore the main effort is directed at these areas," they wrote.


"Accordingly, the scope of the investigations and refusals of entry due to suspicion of terrorist and espionage activities is far greater than the scope of interrogations and refusals of entry relating to activities that are affiliated with the extreme left. The Shin Bet is well aware of the arena in which it operates and the sensitivity of the tool of interrogation,” they continued.


According to the Shin Bet, the interrogations were carried out legally in light of the detainee’s involvement in violent illegal activity or in connection with terrorist elements, aimed at harming the security of the state. "It should be emphasized that these interrogations do not seek to prevent legitimate protests, but only to prevent illegal violent activity.”


The Shin Bet revealed that in recent years "activists affiliated with the extreme left in Israel have been involved, inter alia, in activities related to the Shin Bet's mission to prevent terrorism and violent and illegal activities, including organizing and participating in flotillas planning to reach the Gaza Strip, for the purpose of breaching the naval blockade on Gaza, with a clear link to the Hamas terrorist organization.


In addition, the agency is aware of organizations working to recruit Israelis and foreigners for the purpose of involving them in events with potential for violence on a nationalistic basis in the west Bank.


AG Avichai Mandelblit (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
AG Avichai Mandelblit (Photo: Motti Kimchi)


"According to our information, Israeli and foreign activists seek to persuade Israelis and Palestinian residents to go to areas of high potential for friction and violence against Jewish residents and security forces, often involving violent stone throwing, barricades and refusal to evacuate a declared closed military zone. Based on past experience, this violent activity is prone to turn into larger scale incidents that pose a significant risk to the security of the residents of the area, Palestinians and Jews, the security forces and the activists themselves," they stated.


"In recent decades, terrorist elements and intelligence foes have identified the air and land border crossings as a soft under-belly, which can be used to infiltrate agents who specialize in the field of terrorism and espionage. In the past year, foreigners who intended to take part in terrorist activity and espionage against Israel were prevented from entering Israel,” they added.


"In recent years, terrorist organizations have developed various methods aimed at bypassing the obstacles of Israel's borders, while constantly studying the patterns of action taken by Israel and marking the weak points at the border crossings … especially by means of citizens of Western countries, who are more likely to enter Israel unhindered."


According to the agency, Israel's enemies have managed to infiltrate into its territory terrorist operatives, who carried out significant terrorist attacks (including the 2003 Mike's Place bombing), as well as agents carrying out intelligence gathering operations, some of which were used to carry out attacks in the country.


"The Shin Bet's presence at the international border crossings is critical to the realization of its mission to protect the security of the state, which is required from threats to the security of the state posed by both foreign and Israeli citizens, who are liable to be exploited for terrorist activities and espionage without their knowledge, it noted.


“One of the tools used by the Shin Bet for this purpose is the security interrogation at the border crossing. The investigations are conducted for foreigners who wish to enter Israel and there is a need to ascertain whether they pose security risks as well as for Israeli citizens for whom there is credible security information that they are involved in security related activity.”


The agency emphasizes that from time to time it examines its policies for dealing with radical activists, including at the border crossings, in accordance with the security circumstances and regardless of their political outlook or affiliation. If the issue of delegitimization comes up as part of a security interrogation, the Shin Bet completes its questioning and considers the possibility of conveying the information to the relevant authorities.


The document refers to the seven recently detained activists and to the interrogation of journalist Peter Beinart, saying that the head of the Shin Bet determined that his interrogation was "an error of professional discretion by the relevant agent related to the circumstances of his arrival, although it was conducted within the confines of the agency’s legal mandate."


The Association for Civil Rights legal advisor, Dan Yakir, criticized the contents of the Shin Bet's letter regarding the detention of political and social activists at the border crossings.


"This is one of the most shameful and dangerous documents issued by one of the state's agencies. The Shin Bet, in an attempt to circumvent the limitations imposed by the High Court of Justice, has decided to define these activists as no less than suspects of acts of terrorism or of nationalistic violence, and the Shin Bet believes that participation in a demonstration or a tour of the West Bank is an existential threat to the State of Israel. Instead of the attorney general objecting at these things, he adopts them," Yakir said.


Yakir added that the only case in which the Shin Bet admitted its mistake is in the case of Peter Beinart. "It is only when it comes to the political persecution of an American journalist who is capable of causing PR damage to Israel, that someone is willing to admit that we were wrong. This only proves that it is a political persecution intended to threaten critics of the occupation inside and outside of Israel."



פרסום ראשון: 09.29.18, 21:47
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