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Israel: Lawyers call on Shin Bet to halt text message threats targeting Palestinians

Palestinian lawyers have written to Nadav Argaman, the head of Shin Bet, to demand the Israeli intelligence agency stops sending threatening text messages to Palestinians it accuses of involvement in recent protests at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

In a letter also sent to Israel’s attorney general on Thursday, Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the reported practice appeared to breach previous Supreme Court rulings limiting Shin Bet’s use of location surveillance technology to monitor Israeli nationals during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Palestinians in Jerusalem have been receiving threatening text messages, which claim to be from “Israeli intelligence”, warning them over taking part in protests around al-Aqsa Mosque.

The messages, written in Arabic, read: “Hello! You have been identified to have taken part in violent acts at al-Aqsa Mosque. We will punish you. – Israeli intelligence.”

Over the past week, Israeli forces have violently cracked down on Palestinian protests against the imminent expulsion of six Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel plans to replace the families, who have lived in their homes for decades, with Israeli settlers.

While Shin Bet has not publicly admitted to sending these texts, it has not denied its involvement. It responded to a report on the Israeli news site Ynet by saying it does not comment on operational activities, according to Adalah.

“In addition to the nature of the threatening text messages that violate the privacy of their recipients, the sending of such messages by the Shin Bet is illegal and extends beyond the scope of its authority,” Adalah said.

Undaunted

All messages were sent from the same phone number. Middle East Eye attempted to call the number when the reports of the threatening messages first emerged earlier this week but received no response.

Many Palestinians believe that the number of people who have received the messages, in addition to their proximity to al-Aqsa Mosque, suggests some form of state involvement.

“It is most likely that the Israeli intelligence uses a GPS system, in order to be able to know who was in the al-Aqsa Mosque at this time,” Mona Shtaya, local advocacy manager at 7amleh, a Palestinian digital rights organisation, told MEE.

She said that the technology had been in place since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic under the “pretext of public health”, but was now being used by Israeli authorities to “track people’s locations and threaten them”. 

The messages were not successful in deterring Palestinians from continuing to take part in protests across Palestinian and Israeli cities, which Israeli forces and settlers have met with violence, including lynchings, beatings, car rammings, rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades, tear gas, arrests.