NOTE: On March 14th, I was the first blogger or journalist to report this story outside Israel. Subsequently, an Israeli peace activist informed me that Anat Kamm’s attorney and friends have asked others not to publicize her case. In honor of that, I decided to take down this post as I did not wish to harm her defense. I wrote to Kam’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, and asked him to confirm that he did not wish any public discussion of her case. He has not replied. For that reason, I have decided to repost this story with some amplifications and editing to reflect new information I’ve learned.
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We’re going to be getting into deep territory tonight regarding Israeli military intelligence, the Shin Bet, and their ability to make a mockery of alleged Israeli democracy and freedom of the press.
An Israeli friend brought me word that Anat Kamm, an entertainment writer for the popular Israeli internet portal, Walla, was secretly arrested and imprisoned, after which she was placed under house arrest by Israeli authorities. Needless to say, this is a highly unusual development. In fact, I can’t remember the last time this happened to an Israel journalist. I apologize that most of the material I’ll be linking to is still in Hebrew and not yet translated. If that situation changes I’ll be adding English language links or sources.
Though Kam denies this, Israeli sources maintain she has been fingered by the Shin Bet as the source of a highly damaging 2008 Haaretz report that noted that a number of Palestinian militants who, the IDF claimed in separate media reports, were killed during firefights were actually assassinated in cold blood. This of course wouldn’t be news since it has happened many times before. What was news was that in 2006 the Supreme Court laid down specific and limited procedures under which targeted assassinations may be pursued. Haaretz revealed that the IDF was ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling and essentially killing militants in cold-blood and covering up the fact. It approved killings even if civilians were also likely to be killed. It approved killing suspects who were not “ticking-bombs,” another contravention of the Supreme Court. In fact, as recently as 2009 the IDF killed Palestinians under suspicious circumstances which Palestinians have labelled murder in cold blood, leading one to believe that targeted assassinations continue.
The Haaretz report, which presumably and inexplicably passed military censorship, displayed two IDF top-secret documents drawn up by the military senior command, which laid out the provisions for the killings and proved that they were ignoring the Supreme Court ruling.
A former intelligence agent, Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, working as a researcher for Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, examined the documents in detail attempting to trace the source. While he didn’t specifically identify Kam, he did make clear that he believed the “Deep Throat” served in a position in military intelligence which allowed access to such documents.
Dahoah Halevi fed the story to ShalomLife, a Canadian Israeli news portal which published this rather sloppy right-wing slant on the Kam case. Dahoah Halevi was the editor of Shalom Toronto, listed as a sponsor of ShalomLife. The publisher of ShalomLife, Yossi Arbel, is also the publisher of Shalom Toronto. Some speculate that it may be an attempt by the Jerusalem Center to smoke out an Israeli journalist who will break the gag order by reporting on a story previously reported outside Israel.
On a rather humorous personal note, the author of the ShalomLife article confuses this blog with an “internet forum belonging to the Israeli left” by misattributing a quotation from this post to such an entity:
Internet forums belonging to the Israeli left have expressed support for the leak by Anat Kam, and have called it “a moral act” and “a civil duty”. One of the messages stated: “We must fight for Israeli democracy even if Anat Kam cannot or will not do it herself, and even if the Israeli press cannot or does not want to do it itself.”
There is one especially salient, disturbing passage in the ShalomLife story, which speculates on Kam’s motives in leaking the documents:
It is safe to say that the leaker wished to advance a political agenda and arouse wider public criticism in Israel and the world towards the IDF’s focused and deliberate policies against agents of terror.
First, it is convenient for an Israeli rightist to focus on Kamm’s alleged political agenda and neglect that she undoubtedly had a moral and democratic agenda as well. Second, since the author of the Jerusalem Affairs analysis was himself a former intelligence officer and because Gold is a Likud loyalist, we can safely assume that this reflects the Shin Bet’s own views in the matter. Which is all the more reason to fight this detention tooth and nail. The far-right can natter all they wish about opposition to its policies being political, but the truth is that opposing targeted assassination and leaking material that documents violations of the law is a MORAL act and a the democratic duty of a citizen. We must fight for Israeli democracy even if Anat Kamm cannot or will not do so herself. And even if the Israeli press cannot or will not do so itself. On that note, Haaretz, who used Kam’s materials for its scoop, has so far written nothing about her predicament. That seems to me an unfortunate editorial decision.
The Israeli sources who have written about this note that there is a military gag under preventing reporting not only about the alleged leak, but that Kamm was arrested at all. I call this censorship of infinite regress. Which may explain why Haaretz has been silent. One hopes the Israeli press will find their voice and do their duty as journalists regardless of the strictures of the national security state.
Those who believe in Israeli democracy should explain how a citizen can disappear without a trace. Is this China, where the government denies it even is detaining a troublesome dissident who has disappeared? Is this the face Israel wants the world to see? Does the security apparatus have the right to run roughshod over whatever civil liberties citizens retain? I should add that this isn’t quite as bad as China. Some people now know what happened to Anat Kamm. She is safe although under detention. But other than that, there are a lot of what Don Rumsfeld was fond of calling, in that inimitable way he had with the English language, “known unknowns.”
Apparently, it took over a year, but they have finally closed in on Kamm as the culprit. They have really put the fear of God into her. As Israeli bloggers and activists have become aware of this incident and written about it publicly, associates of Kamm have approached them asking that they desist. Each individual has to consult their conscience in situations like this. But I personally can see no benefit to Israeli democracy or even Kamm herself by keeping silent. Undoubtedly, intelligence agencies have threatened her with horrible punishments if she doesn’t maintain absolute muteness. As a 23-year-old relatively unfamiliar with the school of hard knocks that is the Shin Bet or military intelligence (where she presumably worked and which presumably investigated the leak), she’s quaking in her boots. Who could blame her?
But I think that others need to have different priorities. Even if Kamm doesn’t want to, or can’t fight for herself we must do so ourselves. And again, we do this for the sake of Israeli democracy. We do this to attempt to draw red lines and prevent the intelligence services from crossing them. For we know that the Israeli national security state puts little stock in the rights of its citizens–witness the trampling of the rights of those whose passports and identities were stolen by the Mossad in carrying out the Dubai assassination.
We must make common cause with those Israelis and human rights NGOs who fight against such outrages. As such, a measure of thanks is due the Israel Democracy Institute and its ejournal, The Seventh Eye, which has featured fine reporting on this matter. Sol Salbe has directed me to an excellent archive of linked online articles about Kam’s situation. Indymedia Israel also wrote up the story (web page now taken down) providing additional information. Maariv published a highly allusive piece by Kam’s apparent boss, which reminds me of samizdat of decades past, which satirized the political culture of authoritarian regimes through allegory, indirection and oblique allusion. Here is the first sentence:
How can a journalist be detained for over a month and everyone stays silent? The journalists in Shoo-Shoo-land must be nonentities, otherwise it would be impossible to explain how in the past month not a single one of them wrote a single word on the journalist’s detention.
Let’s not forget that we’re talking about the Only Democracy in the Middle East™ here. And lest we forget how the Shin Bet has dealt in the past with similarly damaging incidents, we need only remind ourselves of the Kav 300 Affair.
I wonder why the spooks did not target Kamm sooner since she leaked the documents over a year ago. Possibly, she was working on a current story they didn’t want to see the light of day and this prevented her from reporting it. Or perhaps, the current political climate in which the far-right is running roughshod over the rights of peace and human rights activists with the approval of the government has emboldened the intelligence establishment to light out after practicing journalists. It may also be possible that Kamm is part of a larger constellation and the investigation includes her, but goes beyond her as well.
We must fight back. We must help Israeli democrats turn back this assault on freedom of the press, free speech, and democracy.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.