(photo credit: Courtesy)
Once again the Israeli security establishment proved how it disregards the right of the public to know. But the scandalous efforts to prevent the publication of the case of Avera Mengistu, the young Israeli of Ethiopian origins that voluntarily infiltrated Gaza by climbing over the border fence, is nothing compared to the way the government treated his family and the entire Israeli Ethiopian community.
The family claims they were threatened by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and police officers not to talk to the media about the fate of their son. It turned out that they were rarely briefed by the authorities who were handling the case and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bothered only Wednesday to call them. The strong feeling is that if the skin color of the missing Israelis would have been paler or had he come from a different socioeconomic class, the security apparatus would have treated the case with less indifference and with more care and consideration.
It is true that the government and the military establishment have set an important goal to deprive Hamas of having "assets" and "bargaining chips" in order to reduce the price Israel would have to pay for the release of Mengistu and another Israeli of Arab origins who also infiltrated into Gaza and is missing. The government wants to prevent the repetition of past prisoner swaps such as the 1985 Jibril swap, the 2004 swap for Colonel (res) Elchanan Tenenboim, who was lured to a drug deal and kidnapped by Hezbollah, and more recently the Gilad Schalit case with Hamas. On all these occasions, and others, the government found itself pressured by the public, families and lubricated PR campaigns, eventually caving in to both the domestic pressure and to the other side.
This conduct by the security establishment is rooted in a new obsession that began in the last Gaza war.
Security analyst Yossi Melman discusses missing Israelis in Gaza
It is the desire to prevent the kidnapping of Israeli civilians or soldiers at all costs. When it comes to soldiers in the battlefield, the IDF used an illegal and unethical method coded "Hanibal," in which it employs unrestricted fire power to prevent attempts to kidnap soldiers, even though it could have killed the soldier itself and many innocent civilians. Indeed, Professor Asa Kasher, who wrote the ethical code of the IDF, claimed Tuesday that at least one soldier who was targeted for kidnapping by Hamas fighters, was killed by Israeli fire. And indeed many Palestinians were killed by IDF fire under such circumstances.
And now we witness the cases of Menigistu and the other Israeli Arab. They are civilians, and not soldiers, and the methods used are efferent: not friendly fire, but court gag orders and heavy censorship. But the goal remains the same - not to surrender to Hamas.
But no matter how important the aim is, the use of dubious measures cannot be justified. If the government wishes to be tough and determined and not to cave in this time, it can do it by showing its will power in negotiations - and there are already secret negotiations underway via Egyptian and German intelligence officials - and not by ignoring the family and making a mockery of basic values in a democratic society.
What is also worrisome is that the organs of the security establishment – be it the Shin Bet, censor, Mossad , IDF, defense minister or prime minister – have repeated time and again the same mistake. They always believe that they will be able to prevent the leakage of information. It happened with Tenenboim, it occurred with Ben Zygier
, the Mossad operative who was arrested and committed suicide in his prison cell after being accused of revealing information to Iranian agents, and there are other cases, some of them still preserved by the cloud of security and censorship. And its happening now. They believe that they can control the flow of information and show complete ignorance in the face of the information highway and the digital era when the "secrets" are being leaked and used in social media and networks. And they prove to be, of course, wrong.
The security apparatus allows itself to manipulate secret information and do with it as it likes, seeing it as its own intellectual property and not that of the public. They do it with the generous help of cooperative judges who jump to stand up and salute whenever the state uses the magic word, "national security."
The same exhausted slogans are always used by them: "trust us"; "the information will assist the enemy"; and "we know better." The truth however is that they don't. As past precedents proved time and again, the security establishment lacks the ability to draw lessons and correct itself, at least when it come to questions of security versus democracy. It can be almost said with certainty that if and when another "security affair" will be exposed, we will see more of the same.