Why Shin Bet may be used to police Palestinian areas in Israel

PM Netanyahu is strongly considering deploying the internal security service to police Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, instructed security agencies to prepare for Shin Bet to take on crime-fighting responsibilities at a meeting on June 11, 2023 [Menahem Kahana/Reuters]

Israel is considering deploying its internal security service to combat crime in Palestinian neighbourhoods in Israel.

Israel’s Shin Bet, or Shabak as it is known in both Hebrew and Arabic, is the internal intelligence service and one of the three branches of the Israeli General Security Service.

After a meeting with top officials on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office instructed authorities to prepare for the agency to become involved in fighting criminal activity.

“Despite the difficulties, the capabilities of the Shin Bet must be harnessed in the war against the mob families in the Arab community,” Netanyahu was reported to have said at the meeting, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Here is what you need to know:

Is Shin Bet already active in Palestinian neighbourhoods in Israel?

“The idea that the Shin Bet is not involved in the Palestinian community in Israel is false,” Amjad Iraqi, senior editor of +972 Magazine, told Al Jazeera.

Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting on June 11, 2023 [Menahem Kahana/Reuters]

The agency is “very actively gathering intelligence. They have informants and collaborators and are constantly monitoring Palestinian citizens all the time,” he explained.

Sawsan Zaher – a lawyer with her own human rights practice – shares this view. “The Shabak is already involved, secretly, in a lot of issues among Palestinian citizens in Israel because they are and have been viewed since the establishment of the state in 1948 as an enemy and as a security threat,” she told Al Jazeera.

The latest discussions are merely a continuation of an “increasingly draconian shift of the Israeli security establishment” to control the Palestinian community further, Iraqi explained.

What powers does Shin Bet have that police do not?

Shin Bet has access to a number of advanced intelligence-gathering facilities that the police are not permitted to use.

These include Pegasus spyware, which can infiltrate a mobile device either through a text message that users click or, more recently, through “zero-click attacks”.

Messages, chats, phone calls, contacts and emails can be monitored by spyware.

Shin Bet can also use wide-reaching, secretive and violent interrogation methods on its prisoners, preventing them from seeing their lawyers and ignoring due process.

Is this proposal likely to go ahead?

There has been opposition within the Israeli government to deploying Shin Bet in Palestinian neighbourhoods in Israel.

According to Haaretz, Israeli officials argued that the current laws do not allow mobilising Shin Bet and its agents against citizens of Israel and do not allow National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to approve administrative detentions.

The Middle East Monitor, a nonprofit press monitoring organisation, reported that senior security officials feel that it could divert vital manpower and resources from ongoing operations.

The Times of Israel also reported the head of Shin Bet opposed the proposals in a meeting with the prime minister’s office.

Gali Baharav-Miara, Israel’s attorney general, also argued that an active role in policing would risk revealing Shin Bet’s investigative methods in court if they were to convict anyone.

Netanyahu has so far appeared to ignore these objections. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

What kind of crimes would Shin Bet be asked to tackle?

The issue of crime and homicides has plagued the Palestinian community inside Israel, referred to as the 1948-occupied territory or the occupied interior by Palestinians, who have long suffered from discrimination and lower standards of living there.

Crime has shot up this year with The Times of Israel reporting the number of Palestinians killed by violence in Israel at 102, compared with 35 at the same point in 2022.

Many also accuse the police of deliberate neglect. Zaher said the police force has “intentionally not been doing its role as an enforcement authority, so they can have the Shabak enter”, which, she explained, allows for an “implementation of security tools” and would “further restrict liberties”.

Iraqi explained that there is a deep-rooted mistrust of the Israeli police in these areas: “At the heart of all this is the truth that Palestinian citizens – even those demanding some form of law enforcement – cannot trust the police, cannot trust the security services, because they’re entirely political instruments that are projected by the state to impose their own kind of control or their own kind of violence.”

Palestinian lawyer and political analyst Ziad Abu Zayed believes “there is no real chance to fight the crime under the current Kahanist police inspector, who believes that killing each other is an ‘Arab tradition’”.

In April, Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai was recorded as saying Palestinians “murder each other. It’s in their nature,” in a private conversation with Ben-Gvir.

Source: Al Jazeera