Text size

An elderly Jerusalem woman, Ms. L., who cannot easily get around, had a bitter surprise ahead of Independence Day last year. As she approached her car, which was parked on the street next to her home, she saw a flyer stuck under the windshield wiper. It informed her of a "parking ban," for 35 consecutive hours, on the streets next to one of the public buildings close to her home.

"Parked cars will be towed away by the Israel Police!!!" the flyer warned in large letters. It was signed, "Best wishes, Israel Police." Ms. L.'s son, a well-known lawyer, fired off a letter to Ilan Franco, the chief of the Jerusalem District police. "The experience of past years shows that the evacuation of the residents is intended to make parking possible for self-styled dignitaries and has no substantive purpose," the son wrote. He attached the flyer to the letter, noting that it had been issued by "an Israel Police that has no name, no symbol and no address." He also prepared to file a petition with the High Court of Justice.

In his reply, Franco stated, "The flyer that was attached to your letter was not distributed by or in the name of the Jerusalem District police and therefore lacked any identifying mark." As the lawyer found out, it was the Shin Bet security service that took the name of the police in vain. The service's VIP security unit turned the police into one of its branches in order to impose curfew, Ms. L.'s son summed up.

In the embarrassing meeting between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the reporters who came to hear him explain his belated move from Likud to Kadima, a security man and a journalist clashed and demanded to see each other's ID. On the basis of his jacket, earphone and blue-background Star of David, one can safely assume that the security guard was from Unit 730, the Shin Bet's VIP security unit.

But the guard pulled out a policeman's ID. It showed his name, H.N., his serial number, 1100356, and his rank, first sergeant. Yes, he went on lying, I am a policeman. Supplied with these details, the chief of the Tel Aviv District police, David Tzur, searched his personnel list but was unable to find any such policeman. In his wake the Shin Bet surveyed its lists and admitted: Yes, he is one of our people, and no, he was not allowed to identify himself as a policeman. Now, the Shin Bet promised, we will refresh the procedure.

Special branches

In an orderly country, of the type that Israel purports to be, it is essential to separate between the different law and enforcement organizations, in order to prevent these bodies, their chiefs and their political masters from accruing excessive power. True, it would be more efficient and economical to merge the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad espionage agency, the Shin Bet, the police and the Prisons Service into one highly secretive organization, whose every command the state would obey, but a certain forgoing of efficiency for the good of protecting civil rights is a tolerable price to pay.

Thus the services are separated and so are the government ministries (Prime Minister's Office, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Public Security) of which they are a part. The IDF further separates the Military Police Investigations unit from the Information Security Department (formerly Field Security). The Shin Bet can uncover spies and terrorists, but those who arrest them, at its behest, will be police officers. It is only in a cult or party tyranny that a security police exists - the KGB, the Securitate, the Mukhabarat in Arab states, the SAVAK in the Shah's Iran.

The separation of the police and the secret service, apart from intelligence and operational cooperation between them, was not an Israeli invention. This is the situation in Britain, where at the beginning of the last century the British general security service, MI5, was established from within military intelligence (as is alluded to in its initials as well as those of the British intelligence service, MI6). No police powers accrue to MI5. For arrests and searches it must call on Scotland Yard in Metropolitan London and on the local police in other locales.

The police unit that works alongside MI5 most closely is Special Branch.

The Israel Police sprang from the British Mandate police (whereas the roots of the Shin Bet and of Military Intelligence lie in Shai, the Information Service of the Haganah, the pre-state defense force from which the IDF emerged. In the first years of the Israel Police, it had a "special branch" known as the "Branch/Bureau for Special Tasks."

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was always opposed to the establishment of an American MI5 that would be separate from it, arguing that an investigation is an investigation, whether the offense is kidnapping, assassination (whose prevention is under the aegis of another body, the Secret Service), terrorism or espionage. This year, under pressure from the administration and Congress, and in the wake of its failure on September 11, 2001, the FBI was compelled to create within it a security service, with all the agents, whether dealing with criminal or security cases, taking a common training course. No agent would be posted to the security service before being properly trained as a policeman and serving three years in a field station, to absorb policing through the soles of the shoes.

In the first 15 years of Israel's existence, Isser Harel headed, in different configurations, the Shin Bet, which protected the government of David Ben-Gurion (whose son, Amos, was a police major general) and the ruling Mapai party, and headed the Mossad, but he did not dare to merge them. He wrote in his book "Security and Democracy" that "any deviation from the democratic rules in security work does not serve the purpose but misses the mark and undercuts the most important foundation of all for secret work - public trust.

"To avoid aberrations and obstacles in the work of domestic security in a democracy, it is desirable not to incorporate law enforcement within the purview of the security service. The power of arrest and search in connection with security offenses should be placed in the hands of other state authorities, such as the Justice Ministry or the civil police, under the guidance of the [security] service and without its responsibility being abrogated."

Learning how to swim by correspondence

As a preventive organization, the Shin Bet connects intelligence and uses it to prevent certain offenses, known as "security" offenses, from being perpetrated. The Israel Police, as a law enforcement agency, investigates offenses after they have been perpetrated and collects evidence for a judicial procedure. These are abutting but not identical spheres, as can be seen by the failures of the Shin Bet in the courts in connection with various episodes having to do with underground organizations of the settlers. Anyone who expects the police to emulate in its war on crime the Shin Bet's successes in its war on terrorism is effectively calling on the police to become prosecutor, judge and implementer of verdicts: to execute targeted assassinations of citizens.

Harel, were he still with us, would be astonished to see that the barrier between the Shin Bet and the police has disintegrated in the past few years, in practice and in legislation which slipped by the public radar. And Harel is not alone: senior officers in the army and the police did not notice the developments, while others, who are personally involved, prefer not to talk about a subject in which they cannot take pride. The Shin Bet is trying to hide the full scope of the phenomenon and the police, whose kowtowing made it possible for the Shin Bet to acquire police powers as well, is stuttering helplessly.

The result is that a citizen who encounters a police officer and determines his attitude toward the police according to that experience has no way of knowing whether it was just a Purim disguise, an operational stratagem - for example, a police traffic van that stops for a supposedly routine check a vehicle on the way to perpetrate a terrorist attack, in order to conceal prior intelligence information - or cardboard cutouts of cops.

Sources at National Police Headquarters said last week that the police IDs were given to the Shin Bet "in small numbers and as an operational tool, for special operational needs." But this forgiving formulation, which represents the capitulation of the police after many years of argument, is only one possible interpretation of reality.

The police Intelligence and Investigations Branch is supposed to know who and how many in the Shin Bet carry police IDs. In the past few years many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Shin Bet personnel (mainly security guards but also coordinators and interrogators) have attended the Police College at Shfaram for quick courses on police work, which is akin to learning how to swim in a correspondence course. The course is a semblance of responding to the police demand, during the period of the previous commissioner, Shlomo Aharonishki, not to supply IDs to people who do not know what a policeman is permitted and not permitted to do. The course teaches "cases and reactions": you ask a citizen to identify himself, he refuses, what do you do, right / wrong? If that is enough to become a policeman, it's no wonder the police force has the image it does among the public.

The Shin Bet wants authority without responsibility, rights without obligations. Its chiefs deny the fundamental significance of making Shin Bet personnel policemen, too: their entry, as the subjects of complaints or in the wake of intelligence information, to the list of potential clients of the Police Investigations Department. The Shin Bet guards also refuse to cooperate with criminal investigations of the police in the wake of suspicions that secured persons (a euphemism for politicians) committed a crime - the Shin Bet argument is that their closeness to the guards will be adversely affected if they cannot rely on their absolute silence.

This argument was unavailable to the guards of the U.S. Secret Service in the Monica Lewinsky affair: they had to testify about President Clinton's meetings with her. In Israel, in the absence of a constitution, the Shin Bet is recalcitrant. But if the security guards are also policemen, the matter is not within their discretion and refusal to assist an investigation is obstruction of justice.

Security police

The legal basis for granting police powers and IDs to Shin Bet personnel is Par. 8(B) of the 2002 Shin Bet Law: "To fulfill the tasks of the service, office holders of the service shall have police powers according to the statutes in the addendum, as set forth in the rules or regulations, in consultation with the minister in charge of each statute." The positions referred to by the clause are "preemption and prevention of illegal activity which has the aim of affecting state security, the order of the democratic regime or its institutions," "guarding of persons, information and places determined by the government," and "activity in another sphere determined by the government, with the authorization of the Knesset Committee on the Service and the subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the secret services, which is intended to preserve and promote essential state interests for the national security of the state." This is a catch-all formulation, which leaves the government convenient space to decide what the Shin Bet should do in its incarnation as a security police.

The minister in charge of implementing the law and who has the power to introduce rules and regulations is the prime minister. In May 2004, Ariel Sharon, in consultation with the justice minister and the transportation minister, signed the Shin Bet Regulations (Police Powers), permitting office holders in the Shin Bet "who have been authorized according to rules that were promulgated under the law" to use police powers and show police IDs, but obligating them to identify themselves as Shin Bet personnel, unless this would endanger security or the mission.

The regulations add that the chief of the Shin Bet, in consultation with the police commissioner, will introduce directives in the organization's procedures by which Shin Bet personnel will be authorized to serve as policemen. The Shin Bet and the police refuse to make public the rules that Sharon signed or the directives signed by the service's previous director, Avi Dichter. By chance, both Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, together with - in the absence of any denial - Avi Dichter are earmarked for the top ranks of Sharon's new party. A Shin Bet with police powers is a meaningful reinforcement of Sharon's power and to some extent the realization of an old dream of his. In the 1990s, according to Moshe Shahal, a former cabinet minister in Labor Party governments, Sharon agreed to join the government of Yitzhak Rabin if the Shin Bet was added to the Israel Police as part of the public security portfolio he was to receive.

Since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Shin Bet has sought shelter from every stray bullet behind a bright green book - the report of the Shamgar Commission of Inquiry into the assassination. Now, too, in the episode of the Shin Bet in police clothing, the agency is trying to claim that this is what the Shamgar Commission ordered. Maybe they think that no one will bother to reread the report and look there (in vain) for anything to back up this claim. On the contrary: The report speaks about redefining the demarcation of responsibility between the two bodies, about uniform planning and command, about reinforcing the security guards with personnel of the police special forces unit, about improving the dissemination of intelligence material. There is not a word - at least not in the open version - about Shin Bet powers for the police or vice-versa.

A police ID, which obliges a citizen to identify himself, will not deter those who are bent on perpetrating terrorism and have gone through security filtering or have not yet reached it; Yigal Amir (Rabin's assassin) was not on the list of suspects or wanted people. The Shin Bet thinks otherwise and its opinion is shared by security officers in thousands of institutions and facilities that are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, including the guards at the Sharon Mall in Netanya, who passionately desire a police ID but are being denied one by the police. Apparently the problem resides in the insensitivity of Ms. L., from Jerusalem, the journalist from Tel Aviv and the guards from Netanya: they just don't understand that the life of Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Olmert is more valuable and justifies an abridgment of democracy.