Reviewed by: Hasan Ibhais.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut has published a new book entitled “Palestinian Agents and Spies: Israel’s Third Eye” addressing the Israeli attempts to penetrate the Palestinian community in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by planting and recruiting spies and agents.
The book is a new attempt to understand one of the most dangerous phenomena threatening Palestinian fabric on the security, political and social levels. This is so as it is effectively used by the Occupation to assassinate or arrest political and military leaders of the Palestinian resistance, and to gather intelligence that would serve its war against the Palestinians, such as extraction of confessions from prisoners, uncovering resistance operations, or even obtaining field details needed in any aggression or military operation.
Despite the gravity of this phenomenon, studies addressing it are still limited in number and scope; thus the importance of this study prepared by researcher Ahmad al-Bitawy originally as a thesis for which he received his Master’s Degree from An-Najah National University in Nablus.
The 194-page book includes four chapters with a historic background on Palestinian spies and Israeli spying on Palestinians during British occupation. It then tackles the reasons and motives for spying for the Israeli occupation, the tools for recruiting and preparing spies and communicating with them in addition to the different missions they are assigned with and how the Israelis and Palestinians deal with spies and finally conclusions and recommendations.
– Title: Al-‘Umala’ wa al-Jawasis al- Filastiniyyin: ‘Ayn Israel al-Thalithah (Palestinian Agents and Spies: Israel’s Third Eye).- Author: Ahmad Hamed al-Bitawy
– Published in: 2016 (1st edition)
– Paperback: 200 pages
– ISBN: 978-9953-572-57-4
– Price: $8
Spies and Agents during British Occupation
The first chapter in this book is entitled “A Historical Background on Espionage and its Concept” but the author only concisely talks about Palestinian spies under the British occupation of Palestine noting that one of their important tasks was to fuel discord and disagreements among Palestinian rival families. They would tarnish the image of rebels, assassinate resistance leaders, besides their work as brokers who would facilitate leaking Palestinian lands to the British and the Jews.
This chapter also addresses activities pursued by Zionists to spy on Palestinians during the British occupation and which focused during that phase on two issues: obtaining information that would allow Zionists to take over Palestinian territories and collecting data about those resisting the Zionist project.
Understanding Reasons and Motives
The author tries in the second chapter to trace the reasons and motives that might lead a person to be a spy or agent, and he categorizes them into three main groups or factors. The first category includes the underlying factors related to the individual’s background, upbringing and relation with family and peers. The second includes the enhancing factors, which are found in the individual’s environment and affect him such as financial and family conditions and the way the family treats the individual; and the last category is the stressing factors faced by the individual, which interact with his internal qualities and characteristics.
The author summarizes in 12 points, the main direct and indirect reasons that might lead a person to espionage. These include the weak self-immunity on the religious, ethical and national levels, where he cites former head of Shin Bet Ya‘akov Peri saying that the religious restraint of Palestinian youths was one of the main obstacles to recruit spies. In the same vein, the author says that ethical corruption is one of the gates to security collapse that might be abused by the Occupation to recruit spies.
Another factor is hatred and vengeance from society. He describes this kind of spies as the most dangerous and most violent where a spy is easily recruited and might even take the initiative and demand that s/he be recruited to collaborate with the Israeli intelligence. The author warns in this context against the possible counter consequences of the society’s negative view towards the spy’s family and relatives, which might lead them to avenge the society that has punished them for a crime they have not committed.
The author also sheds light on the weak security awareness among Palestinians and the fragility of the factions’ structural organization, which has allowed the Occupation to penetrate them. The author pinpoints some phenomenon and negative forms of behavior common among individuals due to lack of security awareness such as gossip, curiosity, interference in others’ matters, the tendency to brag and excessive trust in others. On the factional level, there are problems having to do with exposure of leaders in different festivals and public elections, and the easy way of joining these factions without a process of selection or studying the background of new affiliates, the weakness and divergence of military units which include large number of recruits who know each other.
He then addresses the pressing factors that Israel utilizes in attempt to recruit spies through blackmailing or seducing them. These include poverty and unemployment among Palestinians and the fact that many of them work inside the 1948 occupied territories. There is also the Israeli control of checkpoints thus restricting Palestinian movement and their ability to travel for education, treatment or work.
Also among the reasons are the wrong ways of upbringing, which might lead some individuals to improper practices that facilitate their being trapped in espionage. Internet and social media comprise a fertile environment for trapping spies in addition to normalization activities between Palestinians and Israelis. Also, there is the role played by some NGOs receiving foreign funding besides the lack of deterrent sanctions and the laxity in dealing with spies and agents.
The author also focuses on security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel as one of the reasons for collaboration. The information demanded by Israeli intelligence is very similar in nature to the information sought by the PA security forces and is, thus, easy to pass to Israel by former security members after the psychological barrier preventing that had already collapsed.
Means for Recruitment and the Preparation Process
The second chapter points out to the diverse means of recruitment that vary in accordance with the target. He/She is chosen per a set of criteria, such as access to the needed information, aptness to the demanded tasks, and possible responsiveness to recruitment attempts after studying the target’s strengths and weaknesses. Also, starting the recruitment operation needs anticipating the proper time, and it usually needs gradual advance and patience.
The study divides the means of recruitment into three main kinds: seduction, blackmailing and persuasion. Seductive methods include offering money such as a monthly salary or a definite amount that is paid in return for every successful mission, or facilitations that bring about financial benefit such as granting the spy a work permit within the 1948 territories or helping him establish some business. Facilitations might also include family reunion, mitigating prison sentence, freeing relatives from prison, providing treatment, travelling, or finishing education.
The blackmailing methods include threatening the target with deprivation from any of the above mentioned issues, for Israel benefits from its control of different aspects of Palestinian lives. Blackmailing might also include honey trapping.
Resort to persuasive methods needs more efforts and is not commonly used with individuals who have national sense of belonging. However, spies recruited through this method are the most loyal to Israel as their motives are based on internal desire, such as avenging certain people or category or the whole society, and their vision becomes concurrent with that of the Occupation.
The study also addresses the process of qualifying the spy and preparing him/her after recruitment whether to guarantee his/her allegiance and willingness to proceed, or to examine the credibility of information s/he provides, or to help him/her acquire skills s/he would need to perform assigned tasks such as training on self-defense, using weapons or communication devices. It also highlights direct and indirect means of communication the Occupation usually uses to communicate with spies, and places to meet them.
Tasks of Spies
The third chapter covers the different tasks spies might perform to serve Israel. Notably, their participation in assassination or arrest of resistance activists and leaders through tracking and watching them, planting explosive devices in their cars or phones, or marking places they visit or transportation means they use to allow Israel to target them. They even might participate in the assassination.
Spies might penetrate the Palestinian resistance factions through recruiting members from these factions or trying to plant recruited agents. They would acquire sensitive and detailed information about the internal organization for example, names of leaders and their responsibilities, the internal points of strength and weakness, the mechanism for decision-making, and revealing military operations to foil them, among other kinds of information.
Spies are also active, the chapter reveals, within Israeli prisons to extract confessions from new prisoners in what has been dubbed as “bird cells,” where the spy works to earn the confidence of the prisoner after claiming to be a resistance member and urges him to talk then transfers extracted information to Israeli investigators.
Added to the above is the task to buy Palestinian lands and real estate and leak them to Israel. Attempts to enhance the division in the Palestinian society and provoke discord among its families and political components, spread rumors and ethical corruption and drugs, and recruit spies.
Dealing with Spies
The fourth chapter addresses the forms of Palestinian and Israeli approach to spies with emphasis on the Palestinian side. It says that the forms of Palestinian dealing with spies have changed according to the general political situation where the phases witnessing an escalation in Israeli violations against Palestinians were concurrent with escalation in prosecution of spies, especially in the First and Second Uprisings (Intifadah), and the wars on the Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
The most significant forms of approaches addressed by the study include killing spies and agents by the resistance factions or executing them by the PA, harming them, imprisoning them, or defaming them by factions or even by their families.
The chapter also talks about giving spies the chance to repent and recruiting them for resistance work or as double agents, as well as apologizing and paying compensation (diyyah) to those proved to be innocent.
The author is given credit for presenting statistics and tracking Palestinian dealing with spies since the first Intifadah by factions and the PA. He addressed the issue from different angles, although briefly, where he discusses opposing perspectives and the possible negative repercussions affecting justice achievement and the social fabric sometimes, and how concerned sides act to avoid such repercussions.
The study then shows how the Israeli Occupation deals with spies as it endeavors not to expose them, so that it can guarantee proper fulfillment of assigned task and the continued flow of information. Sometimes, it might prosecute or imprison them to polish their image and dissipate suspicions regarding them.
Yet once the spy is exposed, the study says, Israel usually disregards him/her and might even indirectly help expose him/her, especially if s/he is not of major importance. However, those spies who are allowed to live in the 1948 occupied territories live as outcasts for the rest of their lives. Even if they get the Israeli citizenship, Israeli society rejects them as well as the Palestinians of 1948, knowing that Israeli media and a number of political figures sporadically try to cast light on spies’ issue and call to improve their conditions.
Generally speaking, the book has succeeded in describing the phenomenon of Palestinian spies from different angles and in dealing with the lack in literature tackling this issue mainly through recourse to direct interviews. However, the limited literature has sometimes urged the author to depend on sources that are not completely trustworthy from an academic perspective. But while this might make some information in need for scrutiny, it does not affect the overall assessment of the study.
Nevertheless, it should be warned that despite the danger of espionage and the enormous efforts and expenses dedicated by the Israelis to recruit agents, the phenomenon remains abnormal in the Palestinian context. The spy remains an outcast who is rejected by his/her social environment and Palestinian society as a whole. In many cases, spies have been executed or killed whenever the Palestinian people had the proper tools to do so or a suitable resistance environment.
At the end, it must be noted that what the study adds is restricted to describing one of the most dangerous phenomena penetrating the Palestinian society and harming its national issue. It is not a defect given that the study has originally limited its scope to the descriptive context. Yet, it remains a deficiency which researchers concerned with the Palestinian issue should seek to examine and study. For the dangers of this phenomenon and its continuation over a long time demand looking for solutions and mechanisms to address its causes, while engaging in deeper analysis rather than facing the outcome and repercussions.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 27/9/2016