Secret Israeli Units Lived among Palestinians for Years

By Meehan, Maureen | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Secret Israeli Units Lived among Palestinians for Years


Meehan, Maureen, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Secret Israeli Units Lived Among Palestinians for Years

Israelis are fascinated with the revelation that for the past 40 years Israeli Jewish undercover agents have been passing themselves off as Palestinians and have not only lived with and worked with Palestinians, but have even married and had children with Palestinian women living inside Israel.

Published in Ha' aretz, the story revealed the existence of a special branch of the Israeli Shin Bet which sent Arab-born Jews to infiltrate Palestinian towns and families between 1952 and 1959. Some of the agents are still around and remain nameless; some are dead.

However, Iraqi-born Shmuel Moriah, founder and commander of the unit, told what he could of the complex story that has been repressed all these years. "Revealing too much could cause serious damage. Especially revealing the names of the people and their families. It's a matter of children, women, and the possibility of revenge," Moriah said.

Moriah explained that he recruited young Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and how, once selected, the agents went through psychological and graphological screening. In addition to basic intelligence work, they were taught extensively about Islam and the Qur' an and other aspects of Palestinian culture and history. The most difficult thing, he said, was giving them the Palestinian accent and idiom.

Once prepared, which was a difficult task given the closeness of Palestinian society, the young men were given a new identity and a cover story. Most were assigned to the Upper Galilee, Nazareth, Haifa, Shraram and Bedouin encampments in the Negev desert, all within the "Green Line" border of Israel.

"The problems started quite quickly," Moriah told Ha' aretz. "You send a young, vital man and throw him into an Arab environment. The young man gets there. He is unknown and a bachelor. Those around him are suspicious. `Who is this bird of passage that landed in our midst?' the neighbors ask."

Moriah said the new friends and neighbors wondered why he was not married and began to arrange matches. "The guy is under pressure. It's true that when you send him on the mission, you do not give him orders to get married. But it's clear to both sides that there is this expectation, to enable him to do his job better."

Moriah goes on to recount how the most complicated problems began to occur when the operatives, either on their own or because of a desire to please their superiors in the Shin Bet, took up some of the offers of marriage. Children soon followed.

"It's a matter of children, women, and the possibility of revenge."

The dilemma of one woman who discovered her husband's true identity in the mid1960s serves as an example of the sinister effect the secret service's unit had on normal and unsuspecting Palestinians. After divorcing her Israeli Jewish husband, who she had thought was a Palestinian Muslim, the woman, herself a citizen of Israel, moved to Paris with her son. In Paris, she met and married her second husband, who was the PLO representative in France. Her son, a Muslim according to Jewish law and a Jew according to Muslim law, was caught in the middle.

After her second husband died a natural death, her former husband, the Shin Bet operative, asked the service to help persuade her to return to him.

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