Analysis: Who are the 'Free Men of the Galilee'?

On Saturday night, Israel Police sappers defused explosive material weighing dozens of kilograms in a car outside a Haifa shopping mall. An Israeli Arab organization calling itself "Free Men of the Galilee" (FMG) took responsibility for the attack, saying it was a response to Israel's plans to demolish houses in eastern Jerusalem and the recent war in Gaza. While over the years since Israel's establishment many terror organizations have come and gone, others have shown resilience and evolved into political parties. Many of these organizations at an early stage of their establishment designated a spokesperson to promote the organization's manifesto and created a logo for recognition. With the spread of the Internet many also set up Web sites. The FMG has none of these features and many, including the Israel Police, Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] and local journalists, tend not to believe it exists. The only known case where members of FMG have been caught and convicted was in 2004 when four Israeli Arabs admitted in a plea bargain to have been members of the group. They all later denied it. Between mid-2003 and April 2004, an Israeli-Arab called Alla Moussa wrote several articles and proclamations attacking Israel and the IDF on his computer and signed them "Free Men of the Galilee." The articles were later used as evidence against Moussa when he and three other Israeli Arabs stood trial after being caught following several failed attacks on police cars using Molotov cocktails and stones. In April 2004, Muhammad Anabtawi, an associate of Moussa, was caught by the police after he shot at a police car using a rifle stolen nine months earlier from an IDF soldier. The soldier, Oleg Shaichat, was found murdered in an olive grove a short time later. During the shooting, Anabtawi's collaborator, Ahmad Khatib, was killed by the police and Anabtawi tried to blame Khatib for shooting the soldier. Anabtawi was eventually tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder. Since Anabtawi's arrest, the FMG has taken responsibly for several attacks in Israel but no arrests have been made so far. There are several theories about the FMG and whether or not it really exists, ranging from denial of its existence to it being a name used by Hamas to avoid retaliation from Israel, or a Hizbullah cell in Israel.