Prior to a controversial, abortive 2014 decision to separate Palestinian laborers from Israelis on buses traveling to and from the West Bank, undercover right-wing activists ran a campaign to goad the laborers into making sexually suggestive remarks about Jewish women on the bus, then filmed their responses and distributed the material to political officials and news media, Haaretz has learned.
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Right around the time of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s October 2014 decision, Channel 2 ran footage of such remarks provided by the right-wing NGO, Ad Kan – but the footage broadcast did not include the provocations of the NGO’s moles.
Ad Kan is the organization that recently provided Channel 2’s “Uvda” investigative program with footage obtained by its moles of left-wing activist Ezra Nawi boasting of having endangered the life of a Palestinian who sold land to Jews by informing on him to the Palestinian Authority, a boast that was never substantiated. The broadcast by “Uvda” led to Nawi’s arrest.
Haaretz has received documents showing that Gilad Ach, chairman of Ad Kan, which has planted moles in human rights organizations, sought to promote the bus-separation campaign and to sway decision-makers to remove Palestinians from the buses – before Ya’alon’s decision.
Settler leaders, who spearheaded the campaign to remove Palestinian laborers from the buses, have been claiming for years that such workers sexually harass women on the buses. Ya’alon decided in October 2014 to separate Palestinian and Israeli travelers, forcing Palestinian working in Israel to return to the West Bank via the Eyal checkpoint, far from the bus routes used by the settlers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze implementation of the decision last May.
In contrast, the police assert that only one complaint of sexual harassment on a bus was actually filed. Channel 10’s investigative program “Hamakor,” whose reporter spent two days on buses on these lines, did not find evidence of any aggressive behavior.
It now emerges that the Ad Kan organization, chaired by Gilad Ach, sent a female mole along with another individual carrying video and audio equipment to travel on these buses. The raw footage provided by Ach’s team documents the camera operator goading a Palestinian laborer to give his opinion about the women traveling on the bus. The material, presented as if the camera were capturing an attempt at sexual harassment of the female passenger, was distributed as part of a lobbying effort to various officials.
Ach, 32, a resident of the Eli settlement, has in recent years run an NGO called Magen, which says it supports “a Jewish and democratic Israel.” The NGO is the one that ran the moles in human rights organizations prior to the founding of Ad Kan. Ach said in an interview with Channel 2’s investigative program “Uvda,” “We were very careful not to create a reality that did not exist.” However, a look at raw footage gathered by Ach shows Ad Kan members not only documenting events but also provoking them.
For years, Ach recruited young Arabic-speaking graduates of elite Israel Defense Forces units with experience in undercover work among Palestinians. They were employed in several projects, including the one involving the West Bank buses in October 2014.
Ach told a PR man during a meeting in Tel Aviv that he started being an activist after his mother, a Tel Aviv resident, complained that she needed public transportation to visit him in Eli. At the same time, the northern Samaria settlers council launched a public campaign for separate buses, which featured a weekly demonstration in the West Bank settlement Ariel.
On behalf of Magen, Ach drew up a plan to get Palestinians removed from buses in September 2014. “The goal: stopping Palestinians from flooding Israeli buses from the center [of the country] to Samaria, and preventing the consequences,” his plan stated.
“The mission: documenting the harassment and suffering that Jewish passengers experience on these buses and revealing the scorn Palestinians show toward Jewish passengers. The method: infiltrating a team pretending to be Arabs on a number of buses operated by Kavim from the center [of Israel] to Ariel during designated times; recording conversations with Palestinians en route to Judea and Samaria; having a lone girl board a bus and documenting the treatment she receives during the trip; documenting the general situation on these buses.”
The plan also detailed the goals of those involved – to record “curses against the driver,” “harassment of girls on the bus, racist expressions, statements that ‘Jews are suckers,’” and ostensible evidence of “enemy activity, transgressions of the law, racism, and sexual [harassment].”
Ach’s project was short-lived, for while he was organizing the teams to document incidents on the buses, Haaretz reported that Ya’alon made the decision to separate the bus lines for Israelis and Palestinians, essentially making the whole enterprise redundant.
But footage from a single day of filming is enough to learn Ach’s modus operandi. His team included Yulia Tarantarova, who boarded a bus seemingly alone (and was also a mole planted to document the activities of Ezra Nawi), as well as an Arabic-speaking Israeli posing as a Palestinian laborer and a security guard. Ach himself traveled in a private car behind the bus.
The recorded material was passed on to Channel 2, via the Samaria settlers organization and Israeli security officials, as alleged proof of the insufferable situation on the mixed buses.
The raw footage was presented as documenting “the kind of sexual harassment that occurs often on the bus, the high point of which is a Palestinian laborer who tells his friend about a girl he sees on the bus, calls her a ‘whore,’ and remarks that he would like to have sex with her and that if he were alone with her, he’d take her to the back.”
The video recording shows that the presence of Tarantarova alone on the bus did not lead to the anticipated sexual harassment. The mole posing as a laborer began pointing her out to the Palestinians on board, hoping they would respond with a sexual comment. The footage shows Ach’s imposter/laborer-in-disguise starting to talk with workers en route about Tarantarova, asking their opinion about her looks.
According to the transcript prepared by the Magen organization, the conversation went as follows:
Imposter: Hello, how are you?
Worker: Thank God.
Imposter: Where are you from?
Worker: From Zatra
Imposter: Zatra? Where is Zatra?
Worker: Next to Ariel.
Worker: No, no, single.
Imposter: What do you for work?
Worker: Construction in Ramat Gan, for a Jewish contractor.
Imposter: What do you say about the girl here?
Worker: The bus is empty today, but usually there are many pretty girls, thank God.
(The worker does not comment about Tarantarova, and the imposter tries to draw him out.)
Imposter: Look at this beauty.
Worker: Ya Allah, out of this world. Look how smooth her hair is, the whore. I would take her to the back of the bus and screw her. I wish we were here alone. Wait a minute. I want to take a picture of her. Move over a second.
This conversation is heard on the Channel 2 report, accompanied by an image of Tarantarova. But an examination of the raw footage indicates that the sound was superimposed on the video – and that during the filming of her standing on the bus, nothing is heard save for the loud noise of the bus’ engine.
In other sections of the raw footage, Ach’s planted agent is heard trying to draw additional “incriminating” comments, as he called them in his operational plan. In one segment, the man talks with a worker and asks, “Do you hate settlers?” (The answer was “yes.”) In other conversations, the mole tried to extract comments from Palestinians about the police and the army – without much success.
In response, Ach commented that this Haaretz report “is based on lies, whose sole objective is to cover for and protect the immoral activity of Ezra Nawi. It is puzzling why media like Haaretz throw sand in the eyes of its readers and choose to publish, out of the clear, vengeful interest of its lawyers and the reporter who penned it, an article based solely on a false presentation of events. The claims are false and are meant to undermine the publication of additional material by Ad Kan.
“The Ad Kan organization and Gilad Ach base all their facts and claims on authentic material that was collected by Israelis who managed to penetrate the headquarters and heart of activity of anti-Israeli organizations, and to document, via cameras and audio recordings, the frightening reality within them.”
Channel 2 declined to comment.