In my many years of reporting on and exposing the depredation of the Israeli Secret Police aka Shabak or Shin Bet, I’ve only rarely come across an arrest as ludicrous as the one they made last month. I reported yesterday that they arrested a Palestinian humanitarian aid worker, Aya Khatib. As of yesterday, she had appeared in court but no charges had been made publicly against her. Her job as a social welfare activist was to raise funds among Israeli Palestinians for the needy and homeless in Gaza. As such, she collected funds among Israeli Palestinians and used them on humanitarian projects in Israel and Gaza. According to a statement her attorney released:
Khatib was active on Facebook collecting donations for medical patients, particularly children from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are treated in Israeli hospitals, and also for university students whose economic conditions prevented them from paying their tuition fees to universities
Just as Shabak criminalized the writing of poetry by arresting Dareen Tatour and imprisoning her for two years for writing a poem on Facebook, so it has criminalized raising funds via Facebook to aid the needy and the afflicted, if you’re Palestinian. The cruel irony of this is that in the Jewish tradition what Khatib did is considered the height of selfless devotion. But of course, that’s only for Jews. In today’s Israel there is no compassion reserved for anyone who isn’t Jewish.
When Khatib’s two children ran to embrace her in court the police and prosecutor objected. I suppose they might have passed her a gun or a bomb to use as a terror device. Thankfully, the judge decreed that this show of affection was permitted.
Today, less than 24 hours after publishing her name and picture here, thus violating the gag order, the Shabak has felt compelled to release a public statement outlining her alleged crimes. It reveals that she is 31 years old, married and has two children. The precise way the release described this was: “married 2+.” Conveniently eliding that she is a mother and turning her children into a number.
She was arrested on February 17th and has been under constant interrogation and physical abuse, without contact with counsel.
Shabak charges her with being a terror financier and “secret agent” for Hamas’ military wing. She is alleged to have siphoned “hundreds of thousands of shekels,” funds she was collecting for charity, and transferring it to Hamas militants, where it was dedicated to building “terror tunnels” (Israel’s term for them) and planning terror attacks. She’s also accused of bringing parts and “sensitive equipment” into Gaza which could be used for similar operations; along with monitoring IDF positions along the undemarcated “border.”
The Shabak statement also made a chutzpadik claim that in mounting this operation Hamas was “cynically exploiting the suffering” of Gazans for its own benefit. When in truth, the suffering of Gazans is the fault and responsibility of one party, and one party alone: Israel. If there was no siège, there would be no suffering. There would be no need for humanitarian assistance.
In this way, Israel can have its cake and eat it too: it can enforce an illegal unconscionable siege on Gaza, then use the suffering it generates to further criminalize those Palestinians seeking to ameliorate it. A diabolical, but totally Israeli method of causing suffering and then amplifying it.
Israeli media will no doubt credulously accept this untested narrative and perhaps even falsely declare that Khatib “confessed” or “acknowledged” her crimes. A hasbarist here in the comment threads has used such a false portrayal. In fact, even the Shabak statement does not claim she confessed; but rather that the interrogation “revealed” that she’d committed these crimes. In parsing the activities and claims of the Shabak it’s important to note these nuances of languages. You can hide a lot of lies in vague phrases like this.
I disbelieve these charges for a number of reasons: first, a 31 year-old mother with two children does not get herself involved in helping mount terror attacks; second, a humanitarian aid worker does not get involved in fomenting violent terror attacks; third (and most important), the Shabak has a long history of falsely charging Palestinian humanitarian aid workers with almost identical terror conspiracies. About a year ago, it arrested and charged such an individual working for an international aid organization funded by the Australian government, with embezzling funds and transferring them to Hamas for the same purpose.
There was a major problem with the Shabak charges: the aid organization stood by its employee, said he never had access to the amount of funds the Shabak claimed he’s stolen; that no funds were unaccounted for; and that it had investigated the charges and cleared him of wrongdoing. Similarly, the Australian government launched its own investigation to ensure its funds were being used appropriately. It too could not verify the Shabak charges and deemed them false.
The final reason the Shabak narrative fails: imagine Albert Schweitzer and Mother Theresa, not only raising funds to treat the poor and sick in African hospitals and Indian orphanages, but siphoning a few million off the top and handing it over the militants for them to buy weapons in order to overthrow the local or national government. Imagine Gandhi and Martin Luther King not only pursuing social and political justice through non-violence, but skimming donations off the top to build bombs and buy rifles to overthrow the British Raj or Southern Jim Crow. If these narratives make no sense to you, then the same claims about Khatib make no sense either. And if you believe that Khatib is a terrorist financier rather than a humanitarian hero, you have been reading Shabak press releases too long.
The underlying narrative here, which you will not read in any Israeli or foreign publication, is that Israel wants to strangle Gaza. It wants Gazans to suffer to the maximum. It believes that somehow doing this will loosen the grip of Hamas on the enclave; or impede its ability to engage in organized resistance to Israel. It’s also critical to shut off all outside support for Gaza from humanitarian groups and foreign governments.
In the longer term, Israel seeks to destroy the possibility that Gazans will be seen as refugees who are due protected legal status. Doing so absolves Israel of any long-term obligation either to support them or eventually accept them back to their former homes and communities under the Right of Return.
To that end, it’s critical that the Shabak criminalize aid to Gaza. That it smear both aid workers and their employers with charges of aiding and abetting terror. This is why Israel has engaged in such a vicious campaign to tarnish UNWRA; and the reason that the U.S. abandonment of the organization through defunding it and rejecting the international definition of Gazans as refugees under UN protocols, is so significant.
The final irony here is that the Shabak accuses a Palestinian aid worker of using her position to engage in acts of terror against Israel. If you look back only a year ago, the IDF’S special operations unit, Sayeret Matkal devised a similar operation. It infiltrated a commando unit into Gaza under the guise of being a humanitarian aid organization. Under such cover, it could travel around the enclave and plant sophisticated surveillance devices to monitor Hamas communications. Using such a cover, the IDF endangered the lives of legitimate aid workers and their activities. Not to mention, the 20 Gazans murdered when Hamas exposed the Israeli operation and the commandos were forced to flee with their lives.
What possible claim can such a nation make against someone like Khatib when it does the same or worse in pursuing its own interests? This is a bit of shameful hypocrisy.
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.