The Technical Failure of Israel's Divine Intelligence

Just as God knows what’s hidden in the hearts of men, Israelis expect the Shin Bet to know what’s brewing in the minds of 6 million Palestinians.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man in the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday, June 21, 2014.
Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian man in the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday, June 21, 2014.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

You don’t criticize Allah. That’s what I’ve learned from thousands of Palestinian families I've known in the past 20 years whose lives have been ruined by Israel one way or another. Nor do you ask “Where is Allah?” — or why he lets such things happen to his faithful believers.

Last week I almost forgot the rule about not criticizing Allah. I was in Idhna at Mohammed Awaoudeh’s home, which Israeli troops were about to blow up. Awaoudeh’s brother Ziad (sometimes referred to as Ziad Awad) is accused — not yet convicted — of murdering an Israeli, so the Israel Defense Forces and High Court of Justice decided to take revenge on his entire family.

“Tell Netanyahu: Allah punishes anyone who causes injustice,” one woman relative said to me. “Allah will punish Netanyahu like he punished Sharon,” she said, referring to Israeli prime ministers present and past.

If so, he was very late in doing so, I remarked. I meant that Allah took his time in punishing Ariel Sharon. But she concluded that I was referring to Sharon himself as being late in letting himself be punished.

In any case, we Jews are quick to criticize. After the police and the IDF, it was the Shin Bet security service’s turn to come in for criticism. The police and soldiers didn’t professionally handle the distress call from one of the abducted teens, Gilad Shaar, and from his father, who suspected that something was amiss. The Shin Bet didn't know that an anonymous Hamas cell had planned a kidnapping.

The failures of the police and the IDF are human, but the failure of the Shin Bet is on a divine scale; at least this is the expectation that Israelis have of the organization. Just as God/Allah who knows what's hidden in the hearts of men, the Shin Bet is supposed to know what’s brewing in the minds of 6 million Palestinians living under Jewish domination — and to thwart it in time.

We laypeople can’t even imagine the system of personnel, tools and devices the Shin Bet has to produce this superhuman knowledge. Intelligence, informants, wiretapping, coordinators, division chiefs, hot-air balloons, drones, antennas, the Palestinian security apparatus, torture.

The criticism that the Shin Bet did not know about the plot and did not lay its hands on the perpetrators before the kidnapping and murders implies that the organization has all the technological means to possess such knowledge. Meaning: The divine failure here was a technical one. God disappointed because he can.

Israelis’ criticism stops at the lack of knowledge and the technical reasons for this; it does not move on to the next stage: knowledge and understanding. This is what we expect of our intelligence agencies: They should treat all Palestinians as suspects — or accomplices. Not as human beings.

The people in the Shin Bet aren’t asked to understand, to be conscious of human beings and history, and if they do understand, they can only do so after they retire, when they give interviews in movies that become box-office hits. Basically, their job means they’ll be late in understanding, or tarry in making their understanding known.

The employees of the police, IDF and Shin Bet are bureaucrats, civil servants. It’s their duty to carry out the objectives of the state and the government. Otherwise they won’t get paid. One supreme objective – as the past 47 years have shown – is to settle the West Bank with as many Jews as possible while ruining the lives of as many Palestinians as possible.

It’s the job of the security organizations to ensure the well-being of the Jews in every outpost and settlement so they can continue enjoying the view and the tax breaks. The task of settling them in the West Bank is buttressed given the state’s failure to settle as many Jews as it could in Gaza. If there hadn’t been so few, Sharon wouldn’t have evacuated them in 2005.

Another supreme objective – as the 66 years of the state’s existence show – is to grind down the Palestinian people until they cannot or will not demand their right to self-determination. (And there are other objectives – such as bringing all the world’s Jews here. In this case, the failure has been so resounding we’ve stopped considering this an objective.)

So what is the knowledge and understanding that the Shin Bet – and all Israelis – are required, trained and commanded not to extract from the information in their possession? Honestly, it’s insulting, even sickening, to have to say it again and again, in the vain hope that the Israelis will finally get it and draw the right conclusion.

The answer is so obvious, it’s there in all the wisdom of the sages and the history books. What about, say, “’Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?

So let’s put the answer in the form of some free intelligence information. Dear Shin Bet personnel, the two grand objectives whose implementation you are tasked with (subsidies to Jews and breaking the Palestinian people) are, at any given moment, creating thousands of firebombs, millions of rocks, hundreds of ticking bombs and countless seething youths, present and future.

A bit of small talk

Friday evening, after the Iftar meal — time to call friends in Gaza. Sabreen is reassuring. We’re used to bombing, we just can’t get used to feeling like chickens in a cage.

All her children are next to her. And just when she starts telling me about their latest achievements in school, a terrible boom drowns her out. Panting, apologetic, she says: “They bombed. Right next to us.” “Right next to us” is an open field, not far from the beach. I can all but hear her racing heartbeat through the phone.

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