Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, or as it refers to itself in English, the ISA, does not provide public access to its archives and available records of its activities are few and far between. The telegram posted here is a rare exception. Sent from the office of the Shin Bet’s director in March 1988, during the early days of the first intifada, the telegram reveals the Shin Bet’s main recommendations for actions in the Occupied Territories. The document indicates the Shin Bet often used collective punishment and other measures designed to limit Palestinians’ political activism, increase their dependency on the Israeli authorities, and also simply as a show of force.
On its website, the Shin Bet describes its activities in the Occupied Territories as follows: “Since 1967, ISA has been deployed in Judea, Samaria [the West Bank], the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, with the purpose of preventing terrorist activity carried out by residents of the Palestinian territories.” The Shin Bet’s archives, like the archives of other security and intelligence agencies in Israel, are closed to the public, and available records about its operations in other archives are extremely rare. Occasionally, files from other archives that are open for public access contain documents related to the Shin Bet’s operations. These documents help shed some light on how the agency works in the Occupied Territories.
The document posted here, entitled “Summary of Recommendations for Activities in Judea, Samaria [West Bank] and Gaza Strip,” was sent to the prime minister’s military secretary (Azriel Nevo) by Yosef Hammerlin, the Shin Bet director’s chief of staff. The document dated March 1988, from the very beginning of the first intifada, and bearing the handwritten inscription “top secret,” appears to provide a summary of the Shin Bet’s position on what actions should be taken in the Occupied Territories.
The Shin Bet’s recommendations, as listed in the document, indicate that unlike what its website states, “preventing terrorist activity” was not the agency’s sole concern, but rather that it worked to forestall political organization by residents of the Occupied Territories, thwart civil disobedience, and control commerce and employment. The agency also limited the freedom of the local education system and the media. The document also indicates that the Shin Bet considered collective punishment to be an acceptable method. The suggestions it made included selecting “several especially problematic villages” and “handling” them by imposing closures, denying entry to public transportation, and prohibiting laborers from exiting the village to go to work – in other words – creating poverty and frustration.