Israel: Shin Bet security agency authorized to target Palestinian citizens of Israel

Middle East Monitor  /  June 12, 2023

Israel is discussing plans to use internal security agency Shin Bet to tackle rising crime in Palestinian neighbourhoods in Israel, but the head of the agency has warned that it would undermine its ability to combat “terrorism”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with senior officials over the weekend to discuss how to plug the gaping hole in resources dedicated to combatting crime in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The latest figures indicate that 587 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been killed since January 2018 as a result of criminal acts and police inaction. The issue of crime and violence in Israel’s Palestinian neighbourhoods is a result of decades of discrimination, neglect and lower standards of living compared with those enjoyed by Israel’s Jewish citizens. Moreover, police officers are accused of being lenient with criminal gangs. Their indifference has created an environment in which the gangs are able to flourish.

Last week, Netanyahu agreed to set up a ministerial committee, which he will chair, to fight rising rates of violence and crime in Arab society. At the meeting yesterday, details were presented to Netanyahu concerning the major difficulties of using Shin Bet. One of the reasons mentioned is the fact that the agency will be restrained in its ability to rely on questionable methods of intelligence gathering as used regularly against Palestinians in the occupied territories and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel’s notorious NSO spyware is used to spy on Palestinians. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai has complained about the restrictions faced by his officers in deploying the same NSO spyware against Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Shabtai was recorded in April making excuses for the failure of the Israeli police force to deal with rising crime in Palestinian areas. Arabs [Palestinians] “murder each other… it’s in their nature,” he said.

Israeli officials are demanding that legal restrictions which block the police from using the same intelligence gathering techniques used against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank should be lifted. According to Haaretz, Israeli officials argued that the main problem is that the law does not allow mobilizing Shin Bet and its agents against Israeli citizens, and does not permit National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to approve of their administrative detention.

“Despite the difficulties, Shin Bet abilities must be harnessed in the fight against crime families in the Arab community,” the prime minister is reported as saying at the meeting, according to Haaretz.

A senior security official is reported as saying that bringing Shin Bet into the picture could be detrimental to its ongoing operations, and cause the service to divert manpower and resources. It may also bring its covert techniques and operations into public view.

“The tools and capabilities that Shin Bet uses against terrorism could very well be exposed if we are forced to bring a suspect to court,” said the official. “This could lead to the terror groups discovering their capabilities and trying to bypass them, which would harm Shin Bet’s ability to achieve its objectives.”