Tunnels. The very word connotes ancient secrets, mystic rites and modern adventure. Israel is blessed with tunnels both natural (the country gets whole pages on spelunking websites) and man made: The “Rabbinical” tunnels alongside and beneath the Temple Mount get lots of attention. Their excavation launched Arab riots as well as a new locus for tourism. (Jerusalem’s coolest tunnel is Hezekiah’s ancient passage to the Gihon Spring, seen at right.)
For Israel’s security forces, it’s the tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt that, understandably, generate the most interest. Egypt’s government claims, unconvincingly, that it’s trying to keep the tunnels closed, while evidence at the other end (filmed by France24’s English newscast) shows Gazans’ using the tunnels routinely to smuggle in market goods and even electricity generation. Hamas undoubtedly also uses them for less homey shipments, like weaponry.
Israel’s been unable to police the tunnels since its pullout from Gaza, so the Shin Bet security agency gets its intelligence from Palestinian informants in Rafah, the border town. Unfortunately, according to an article in Haaretz, Shin Bet is willing to abuse its role at Gaza’s border with Israel to coerce possibly innocent Gazans into enlisting as spies.
No one knows how many are held this way but the monthlong detention and interrogation of Palestinian-Canadian Hamed Keshta gives rise to concern. Keshta’s ties to foreign journalists secured him an Israeli lawyer and international attention for his story, including from Haaretz’s Yossi Melman (co-author of Friends In Deed, one of the best histories of Israel-U.S. diplomacy).
How many others aren’t heard from?
Keshta’s lawyer deplored “the arbitrariness and the ease with which Shin Bet officers can detain a Palestinian, demand his collaboration with them, accuse him to judges of serious crimes, and how the judges in almost automatic fashion accept the Shin Bet position, and then release him as if nothing has happened.” Keshta, a father of two, had approached the Erez Crossing with an Israeli-issued permit to attend a meeting in Ashkelon with his European supervisors. Instead, he was detained on “repeated remand” while being threatened and badgered to collaborate with Shin Bet in exchange for his release. He does not say he was tortured or beaten, but medication prescribed by an Israeli prison doctor was withheld. He also was thrown in with other Palestinian “prisoners” who threatened him with violence. (He believes they were collaborators trying to force him into false confessions of terrorism that Shin Bet could then use against him.)
“At the conclusion of the investigation, and in light of the quality of the evidence collected against him, it was decided to release him without charges.” That’s a quote from Shin Bet.
I used to reflexively defend this sort of “official” Israeli action as necessary to defeat terrorists. But if I can’t defend it when it happens in the United States—if I can object to arbitrary and secretive detentions of cab drivers and teenagers at Guantanamo—how can I condone it in Israel, a country likewise devoted to the rule of law? When IDF soldiers shoot a suspect’s foot with rubber bullets, how can I call that “necessary”? When Israeli police confess to ignoring violence and vandalism by Jewish settlers against their Palestinian neighbors, how can that be okay?
It’s hard to remember now the not-so-distant time when Jews and Arabs routinely mixed across territorial lines dividing Jerusalem and encircling the West Bank and Gaza—borders that today are almost literally walled. On the street level, at least, in neighborhood hummus shops and coffee bars, there was mostly peace. But that was before the first intifada in 1987, and before Palestinian terrorists abused their access for heinous suicide-bombings.
The separation today is bad for Palestinians and bad for Jews, but what’s the solution? More tunnels?