Testimony by commander of the Israeli Prison Service’s elite ‘Masada’ unit sheds light on IDF methods in countering demonstrations against barrier.
Undercover soldiers hurled stones in the “general direction” of IDF soldiers as part of their activity to counter weekly demonstrations in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, the commander of the Israeli Prison Service’s elite “Masada” unit revealed during his recent testimony in the trial of MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash).
Barakeh has been charged with assaulting a border guard in Bil’in who was attempting to arrest a demonstrator.
Since 2005, the weekly protests against the separation barrier in Bil’in, which cuts the village off from much of its residents’ land, have attracted international attention as well as the participation of Israeli and international activists.
Several “Masada” fighters testified two weeks ago in Barakeh’s trial in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court. The fighters testified from behind a curtain and their identity is to remain secret. The central witness was “Fighter 102,” an officer in “Masada,” who told the court that “we were sent to counter the disruptions at the separation barrier in Bil’in. It was the first time I was undercover. Two men were arrested, they were Palestinians.”
When quizzed by defense attorney Orna Kohn if the undercover soldiers hurled stones, “102” answered that they did. When asked if he hurled stones toward IDF soldiers, he answered “in the general direction.”
The unit’s commander, “fighter 101,” who commanded the operation that day, shed light on the unit’s operational methods. “I was commander of the force, directed by the IDF, following intelligence about a huge demonstration due to take place in the Bil’in area. We had several forces in the field – one of them was an undercover force whose mission was to provide intelligence and carry out ‘quality’ arrests, if needed, and a rescue force which was wearing regular uniforms,” he revealed.
“An enormous demonstration began, coming down from the village. It seemed that the army was losing control. Some 500 demonstrators came down and ignored the orders of the deputy battalion commander, who was in charge of the operation, and simply passed by him without blinking. The army forces swiftly lost their ability to effectively control the situation,” the officer continued.
“At a certain stage the deputy battalion commander told me he had lost control and requested that we act to stop the demonstrators. We used equipment for dispersing demonstrations and managed to stop them. When the undercover unit reported, it identified ‘quality’ targets – that is substantial activists who led the demonstration, hurled stones and constituted a danger to the forces. I ordered the undercover forces to carry out arrests. I caught the back of a man who attacked one of my soldiers, and identified him as MK Barakeh. As far as I’m concerned if an undercover soldier arrested someone, he must be a quality target,” the commander told the court.
MK Barakeh originally faced four charges, but two were dropped in the preliminary proceedings. The second of the two remaining charges dates back to July 2006, when the prosecution alleges he assaulted a right-wing activist who attempted to attack peace activist Uri Avnery.