Israel’s State Prosecution on Monday informed the High Court of justice that, according to IDF sources, the NGO Breaking the Silence may hold sensitive information classified as “confidential ” and even “top secret.” The Prosecution added that despite this, it stands behind the decision not to open an investigation against BtS.
The State Prosecution was responding to a petition filed by the group Ad Kan (Up to Here) with the HCJ requesting that it order the Attorney General to launch an investigation against BtS for collecting sensitive information about the IDF.
The Ad Kan petition was joined by senior military commanders who support the request to investigate BtS’s gathering of military information. The petition was accompanied by opinions from senior IDF Intelligence officials, who indicated the serious problems arising from BtS interrogations of IDF soldiers, suggesting “The organization uses an intelligence gathering method to gather information and intelligence about the IDF, its capabilities and activities. The information in the possession of the organization is valuable to the enemies of the State of Israel, and may be accessible to these hostile parties due to the methods of its storage.”
The State Prosecution pointed to a precedent from 1993, when no investigation was launched against PLO chairman Yasser Arafat so as not to infringe on the Oslo peace negotiations which were on the table at the time. In that, the Prosecution compared the importance of BtS to the importance of the head of the Palestinian Authority, and the Oslo peace accords to the subversive activities of BtS.
The Prosecution did agree that the questions soldiers are being asked by BtS investigators raise some question marks. “The conduct of Respondent 2 (BtS), whose people permit themselves to ask the interrogated individuals questions that on the face of it are not related to the group’s stated goals, raises questions and puzzlement,” the Prosecution told the High Court. However, according to the Prosecution, this still does not constitute a sufficient reason to launch a criminal investigation.
In its response, the Prosecution also stated that “IDF sources have clarified that according to the statements of Respondent 2 (BtS) personnel that were made to individuals who were sent to be interrogated by Petitioner 1 (Ad Kan), Respondent 2 has information about sensitive IDF units, which could in theory be classified as ‘confidential’ and even ‘top secret,’ but the IDF has not received any indication of the existence of such information.”
Because Military Intelligence first waits to see the extent of the damage caused by a suspected spy before they arrest him…
Another argument raised by the Prosecution was that care should be taken regarding the publication of the names of BtS members, because “launching a criminal investigation may have far-reaching consequences for the detainee, as well as public consequences beyond the detainee’s personal involvement.” It also said it was careful not to investigate “organizations and media outlets criticizing the IDF’s activities.”
If only they were as sensitive to the needs of normal criminals, we could all start robbing banks…
Ad Kan CEO Gilad Ach attacked the State Prosecution’s response, noting that “Ad kan conducted a comprehensive, in-depth investigation over a long period of time, which yielded clear and unequivocal indications that BtS collected confidential information about the IDF – all of it with funding and guidance from foreign countries and the European Union.”
According to NGO Monitor, in 2018, the BtS total income was NIS 8.4 million ($2.47 million). 2012-2019 donors include: Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (joint funding from Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands), Trocaire (Ireland), Dan Church Aid (Denmark), Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Christian Aid (UK), Switzerland, France, CCFD (France), Medico International (Germany),
Misereor (Germany), AECID (Spain), EU, ICCO (Netherlands), Norway, Luxembourg, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Open Society Institute, and New Israel Fund.
Based on financial information submitted to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, in accordance with the Israeli NGO transparency law, BtS received NIS 19,754,936 ($5.81 million) from foreign governmental bodies between 2012-2019. According to BtS’s annual reports, donations from foreign countries comprised 59.9% of total donations from 2012-2016.
Ach also raised questions about the nature of the gathered classified information and the magnitude of its exposure to Israel’s enemies: “Where is this information? Who is holding it? Was it transferred, and to whom? Who was exposed to it? These are all questions that must be investigated. This concerns Israel’s security, the blood and lives of IDF soldiers. It’s the clear interest of the general public in Israel to receive clear answers. The complete material is with the police and the State Attorney’s Office, including the professional opinions of senior officers from the military censorship and the IDF’s information security,” he said.
“An investigation must be launched into the nature of the collected information and its maintenance, and we will work to ensure that this is will be done,” Ach said.