Right-wing Activists Arrested for Spying on IDF in West Bank

Group allegedly gives people a phone number they can use to report unusual troop movements that could presage an evacuation of an outpost.

The police and the Shin Bet security service arrested six right-wing activists on Thursday on suspicion of espionage after they were allegedly found to have conducted surveillance on the army in the West Bank.

The group allegedly gives people a phone number they can use to report unusual troop movements that could presage an evacuation of an outpost.

right-wing activists - Olivier Fitoussi - 30122011
Olivier Fitoussi

Thursday's arrests come after the arrest in mid-December of three other right-wing activists - David Eliav, Efi Haikin and Meir Ettinger - in a Jerusalem apartment.

An Excel file on Haikin's computer allegedly listed hundreds of reports about the Israel Defense Forces' movements in the West Bank.

Occasionally - for example, during the settlement construction freeze last year - campaigns are launched to remind the public to update activists about troop movements. When the information indicates that an evacuation is imminent, text messages are sent to activists' cell phones instructing them to come to the protest site.

The suspects arrested on Thursday are Akiva Hacohen of Yitzhar, who has been barred by administrative order from the West Bank and now lives in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood; Elhanan Gruner of Yitzhar; Yedaya Shoham of Itamar; Yaron Kalav of Kiryat Arba; Elad Meir of Harasha; and a minor from Tel Aviv who studies at the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Yitzhar.

The suspects' attorneys said their clients oppose the demolition of outposts and their actions are not illegal. They said they were reporting on administrative steps by the army, such as evacuations of outposts, not actions involving state security.

The police presented abundant classified information during the detention hearing, including exchanges of text messages. The prosecution determined that the suspects' collection of material met the burden of an espionage charge, the police said.

The material allegely reveals that the Jerusalem apartment where the three suspects were arrested on December 14 served as a "command post" for the collection of information. The command post also allegedly operated lookouts; the minor is suspected of acting in this capacity to report on troop movements.

According to the police, this activity brought hundreds of protesters to the northern West Bank on the night of December 12, when the Ephraim military base was attacked. Hacohen is also suspected of sedition.

"Even in the darkest days of the Soviet Union such an approach was not taken," the suspects' attorneys said in a statement after the hearing.

Judge Avital Chen extended their detention until Tuesday, saying that the lookouts' alleged activities "were not unconnected to what happened on the day the IDF base was entered - which crossed every possible red line."

The existence of the command posts has reportedly been known for some time. IDF intelligence officers sometimes sign up for the text service to keep tabs on the messages.