What Is Behind the Mysterious Investigation of an Anonymous Israeli Blogger?

The blogger, who goes by the name 'Eishton,' was MIA for three days before announcing on his Facebook page that he was not under arrest, but is being investigated by the police.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

This post was updated at 9:30 P.M. local Israel time, following a new Facebook status by the blogger "Eishton."

Thousands of Israelis have become addicted to the work of an Israeli blogger that goes by the name "Eishton." A groundbreaking investigation into IDF suicides and the Defense Ministry's Department of Families and Remembrance, a video showing a shooting incident at the Gaza border fence following the November 21 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and a hard-to-digest post chronicling a week the blogger spent in the Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv, are just some of the texts that have appeared on his blog.

However, almost no one knows who "Eishton" really is. His real name is unknown and there is no photograph of him anywhere. In fact he doesn't divulge any details about himself. He funds his blog with his own money and from reader donations, which are conducted through his anonymous email account.

On Saturday evening, after being MIA for three days, "Eishton" posted an update on his Facebook page in which he clarified that he was not arrested but that he is under police investigation. He received preliminary legal counsel from Attorney Jack Chen (formerly a senior attorney with the State Prosecutor), while noting he is not represented by him at this point.

"Eishton" hinted that the police tracked him down by extracting information from an Internet provider, which they attained through a court order.

He also asked journalists to stop digging around his case out of concern that the police may leak his real identity, which he is going to great lengths to keep secret. He also specified that additional publications on the issue may hurt him and other entities that the police are trying to track down. He also emphasized that he has no intention of giving the police information it requested.

On Wednesday December 12, the following message appeared in red font on a black background at the top of his blog:

"'Eishton' is currently under a combined investigation by the IDF's Criminal Investigations Department and the Israeli Police! I am forbidden from talking about the details of the investigation, whose entire goal is to silence, damage and extract private and protected information, in an effort to entrap me and others. But if this site is boycotted or stops being updated, know that it was done against my will, or that I am being held under anti-democratic demands, forced to violate accepted journalistic codes and to censor information the public has the right to know."

Eishton's blog has not been updated since and it is unclear if he was arrested or just investigated. The circumstances behind his being summoned for an investigation are unclear. I heard several possible options over the weekend:

An Israeli blogger that goes by the name Noam R. and has a blog called "Goodwin Tzadak" (Goodwin was right) wrote me on Twitter that the reasons for Eishton's investigation appeared in an interview he gave to Haggai Matar in the local paper "Zman Tel Aviv" in June, where he describes the difficulties he encountered as an independent anonymous blogger:

"This work entails more than hours on the street, in front of the computer and on the phone. Something that may be more familiar to journalists happened to me as a result of my post on Memorial Day. An IDF soldier passed me information that ranges from confidential to problematic. From that moment, maybe because of how much of a novice I am in this field, I experienced several hours of anxiety. I was holding documents with the names of IDF soldiers that died in the last year and the reasons for their deaths. As part of the investigation, I revealed to the IDF Spokesperson and the Defense Ministry that I was holding these documents, which contradict their official positions. I was sure I would get a knock on my door. Journalists have been recently arrested for technical crimes even when getting censorship approval and even when they were backed by a newspaper. So a little blogger that nobody knows? And it didn't end there."

If this is in fact the context for his mysterious disappearance, then the investigation is intended to find the source that leaked the IDF documents regarding the soldiers' death to Eishton. This would also explain the unusual involvement of the IDF's Criminal Investigations Department in the investigation.

Blogger Yossi Gurvitz has raised another theory. Gurvitz wrote me on Twitter that it is likely due to a post Eishton wrote a week ago, in which he refers to a Facebook group called "Who murdered Mustafa Tamimi?" That same Facebook group, which is no longer active, revealed the name and photograph of an IDF soldier who is suspected of being the one to have shot the tear gas canister that killed Tamimi. Gurvitz himself is very familiar with what it means to be summoned to a police investigation because of a blog post.

I tend to think that the reason for the investigation is the confidential information that reached Eishton's hands. Nonetheless, this is an incident that took place half a year ago and Eishton has transferred the material to the relevant authorities anyway due to its sensitivity. So maybe there is another reason entirely.

On his blog, Eishton provides detailed instructions to his readers explaining how to pass sensitive information to him with maximum anonymity. It appears evident that he is well aware of the fact that he himself or his sources may be under surveillance. Apparently he knows what the real story is.

If "Eishton" is indeed being investigated for content he published on his blog, this would constitute harassment by the authorities, to say the least. In 2012 Israel, the involvement of the IDF's Criminal Investigations Unit in the investigation of a citizen is even more disconcerting. I hope that the details of the affair become clear soon and the authorities provide satisfactory explanations for the investigation.

Computer security (illustrative).Credit: GPO

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