Israel’s Shabak domestic spy agency arrested a UN official based in Gaza three weeks ago, who was responsible for providing security there for UN-affiliated institutions. Hamdan Temraz was on his way to meet with his UN colleagues in Jerusalem, when he was arrested by the Shabak at the Erez border crossing. I reported this story when it happened (it was under a security gag order at the time). Temraz has been imprisoned since then without access to a lawyer and without any charges filed against him.
I feared then what has happened to numerous other NGO staff in Gaza, who were similarly arrested on trumped-up charges and forced to accept plea deals involving years of prison time. But oddly, that’s not what happened this time. A well-informed Israeli source told me that the Shabak could not fully corroborate the charges made against him and has therefore released him. No charges will be filed in the case. This blog is the first to report this story outside of the Arab media.
I’ve been following the Shabak and its cases for almost a decade and I can’t think of a previous instance in which it arrested a Palestinian accused of security offenses and then released him. This is simply unprecedented. Not only does the Shabak, like the proverbial Royal Canadian Mounties, “always get their man,” they do whatever it necessary, whether legal or otherwise, to do so.
There could be a multitude of possible reasons for this outcome:
- The Shabak developed a conscience and determined it actually had arrested him in error and that he’d done nothing wrong.
- The evidence, such as it was, was proffered to a judge who took one look at it and laughed the prosecution out of the courtroom.
- A third party (such as the UN, U.S., Jordan, a Gulf State providing support to Gaza) intervened and lobbied for Temraz’ release.
- Temraz was arrested for a more complicated reason than is evident and released when the Shabak was satisfied with the outcome of its interrogation of him.
- Despite three weeks of intense interrogations (which usually includes torture according to Israeli human rights NGOs), Temraz didn’t break and refused to cooperate.
Another aspect of this case that puzzled me was that Temraz’ employer, the United Nations, offered no public statements of support for him. I e-mailed and tweeted various officials and none bothered even to respond. No human rights NGOs dealing with Palestinian rights, as far as I know, made any strong protestations in the case besides the original website article I noted in my original post about his arrest. There was almost radio silence. While it’s possible there were negotiations behind the scenes and the parties didn’t wish to provoke the Shabak into taking a harsh position regarding Temraz, this can’t be documented.
My Israeli source would say little more than what I mentioned in the paragraph above about what happened to cause the case to be dismissed. So obviously, I can’t say for sure why this outcome happened. But what I can say is that this is a far different case than almost any other I’ve covered. It concluded with a complete reversal from the normal protocol, which is a guilty plea from the Palestinian defendant.
There is one important facet of Temraz’s employment that offers some tantalizing clues to what may’ve happened. Israel has complained over the past few months that Hamas built tunnels directly under UN facilities in Gaza. It falsely charged the international agency with colluding directly with Hamas in these cases. The UN denied the claims out of hand.
As a staff member of the agency providing security for Gaza UN facilities, Temraz would know almost everything about such matters. He would possibly liaise directly with Hamas when such charges arose. He would know about the tunnels the Islamist movement might have built in, near, or under schools and other institutions. As such, he would be a valuable source of information for the Shabak. That may explain why it detained him and questioned him over the past month. Either it might’ve tried to recruit him to spy for the intelligence agency; or it might’ve already tried this and failed, and so wished to warn him of its ‘mighty hand and outstretched arm‘ should he continue to refuse.
I reiterate that these are educated guesses and that the truth may be a combination of these factors, or ones we aren’t even aware of. Of one thing you can be sure, there is much more to this case than meets the eye.