Police May Use Undercover Officers in Anti-fence Protests

Are the Border Police employing a new tactic to prevent Israelis from participating in demonstrations against the separation fence that take place on the Palestinian side of the barrier? This was the question on the mind of anti-fence protesters in Beit Surik, west of Jerusalem, last week.

On three of the five protest days last week, undercover Border Policemen - identified as such only after they fired their pistols or arrested a number of minors - suddenly popped up among the demonstrators. Their comrades, uniformed Border Policemen deployed on the ridge, even threw stones at the demonstrators, a number of astonished protesters reported.

Israelis and activists from the International Solidarity Movement participated in the demonstrations in Beit Surik. Veteran demonstrators have nothing to worry about; but, said one of the protesters, someone who is not a familiar face could from now on be suspected of being an undercover Border Policeman. As a result, a number of the familiar Israeli faces have confirmed that they will participate in the demonstration planned for Sunday.

The demonstrations last week did, nevertheless, revive the cooperation with residents of neighboring Mevasseret Zion. The campaign by residents of the Israeli community against harming the agricultural lands of their Palestinian neighbors contributed to the June 2004 High Court of Justice ruling with regard to the route of the fence in Beit Surik. But now the High Court has approved a new route, which, say Beit Surik residents, also affects their agricultural fields. As a result, they have renewed their protests.

The arrest last Monday of the head of the Beit Surik Local Council, Mohammed Kandil, under claims that he struck a policeman during the demonstration, came as a shock to those in Mevasseret Zion who know him.

Two such individuals - the deputy head of the Mevasseret Zion Local Council and a Likud member, Arieh Shamam, and Mevasseret resident Shai Dror - submitted affidavits to the military court with character references in favor of Kandil. Shamam declared that Kandil contributes to the good neighborly relations between the two communities, while Dror told the court that Kandil had ensured that the joint activities against the route of the fence last year had not deteriorated into violent protests.

According to Kandil's lawyer, Bilal Mahfouz, his client hadn't realized he had been arrested at first. Mahfouz said that Kandil had tried on Monday to explain to the policemen that the construction work was being carried out on agricultural land, contrary to the High Court decision, and believed at first that he had been asked to accompany the forces to speak to the contractor. Later that evening, he found himself in detention at the Binyamin police station, accused of stricking a policeman - a charge he adamantly denies. The military court will hold a hearing Sunday on a defense request for Kandil's release.

Mahfouz will be forced to rush between the military court in Ofer and the detention center in Gush Etzion, where three minors from Beit Surik are being held under suspicion of throwing stones. In the wake of their interrogation, which, they said, had included numerous threats, the three signed a document, the contents of which they were unaware.

Mahfouz plans on filing a complaint. According to the minors and eyewitnesses, the three were severely beaten by the undercover Border Policemen while being taken to the detention center. A spokesman for the Border Police denied all knowledge of the beating claims, or the charges that Border Policemen had thrown stones at the demonstrators.