Israel Mulls Espionage Charges Against Jewish West Bank Activists

Eight men suspected of tracking IDF movements in area in order to disrupt dismantling of illegal West Bank outposts, alerting other activists.

The State Prosecutor's Office intends to indict right-wing activists with espionage over suspicions they tracked Israel Defense Forces activities in the West Bank, Haaretz learned on Tuesday.

Late last week, the activists were apprehended following a a joint operation by Israel Police and Shin Bet forces over suspicions that they had gathered intelligence on IDF movements in the West Bank.

Right-wing court - Olivier Fitoussi - 3.1.2012
Olivier Fitoussi

The arrests took place in Jerusalem as well as in West Bank settlements of Yitzhar, Itamar, Harsha, and Kiryat Arba.

On Tuesday five of those arrested – Akiva Hacohen, Elchanan Gruner, Yedayia Shoham, Elad Meir, and Yaon Klab – appeared before a Jerusalem magistrate's court, where they were remand by five days, along with another three suspects who have been in custody for the last three weeks.

According to the police, the eight activists operated an "outpost intelligence HQ," which involved a methodical tracking of IDF movements in the West Bank, meant to disrupt the demolition of illegal outposts.

The suspects allegedly alerted hundreds of right-wing activists on the night of December 12, and to the events which followed, which included an assault on a West Bank army base as well as on a top IDF officer.

An Israel Police representative to the court hearing called the activists' operation a "organized mechanism which operated on the ground. It's clear to us that there was a method."

Hacohen is also to be accused of agitating rebellion over messages he sent to fellow activists.

Speaking at the court hearing, the suspects' representatives claimed that the so-called information regarding IDF movements are text messages that do not count as state secrets and which were published in various websites.

Some examples for such messages given were: "Three military vehicles are now travelling in route 60" and "I will no longer function as alert center from now on, pleases relay messages to x."

In Tuesday's hearing, the police's representative said that they were consulting with State Prosecutor's Office officials and that an indictment will be submitted next week, pending unexpected developments.

The suspects' attorney Naftali Vertzberger said that the "State Prosecutor's Officve and the police decided to change to rules of the game and act as if there wasn't a democracy in Israel."

"It's a shame that some of the judges are being led along by the public atmosphere and are influenced by it, while violations of freedom of speech are taking place," Vertzberger added.

A person close to those arrested said following their arrest last week that "the police have gone mad. They don't have a clue who attacked the Benyamin commander, and anyone who texts about seeing a jeep is being arrested."

Earlier this month, dozens of right-wing activists clashed with police officers in Jerusalem, amid attempts to arrest suspects linked to recent so-called price tag attacks.

Clashes in Jerusalem followed a series of recent violent events involving extremist Jewish activists. Also on Wednesday, a mosque of historical significance in the capital was set alight overnight in another apparent "price tag" attack.