Stop Threatening Text Messages from the Shin Bet to Worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque
In recent days, many Arab citizens and residents received text messages to their cellphones in Arabic, signed by the Shin Bet, with a threatening message: “You have been identified as a person who participated in violent acts in the Al-Aqsa mosque. You will be held accountable.” On 12.5.2021, we appealed to the State Attorney’s Office and demanded they instruct the Shin Bet to immediately stop sending these text messages, and take action against whoever initiated and approved this action.
In the appeal, Attorneys Gadeer Nicola and Gil Gan-Mor argued that sending these text messages was done with a blatant lack of authority, as the massive database of contact information in the hands of the Shin Bet is intended to prevent illegal activity that threatens security, rather than to be used in ways that threaten citizens and residents. “As long as there is concrete intelligence about a person having committed or planning to commit an illegal activity, the Shin Bet and Police are permitted to enact investigative authority and concrete arrests, but in no way is the Shin Bet allowed to send citizens threatening messages such as these”, the appeal stated, “and it is even more severe considering the fact that only Arab citizens received such messages. It would not seem reasonable to anyone in the Shin Bet to even dare and send similar messages to Jewish citizens.”
Following ACRI’s appeal to the Attorney General, the ISA acknowledged that a mistake had been made in the wording and scope of the messages, yet they claimed that sending such text messages was legitimate.
On August 8, 2022, we petitioned the High Court of Justice along with Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, demanding that the ISA be ordered to refrain from sending threatening messages to national citizens and residents. The petitioners claimed that sending intimidating messages to citizens’ and residents’ mobile phones is illegal and fundamentally unacceptable. Insofar as the ISA retains intelligence that someone is involved in committing an offense or intends to commit an offense, with the requisite level of certainty, intelligence workers retain vast authority to act through use of the various legal tools at their disposal, yet not beyond those bounds.
The petition claims that sending messages of this nature has a chilling effect and deters legal and legitimate action, such as participation in a demonstration or religious event. The aim and significance of the text messages is for the regime to discipline and intimidate citizens into not acting – an unacceptable aim for a democratic regime.
The petition also noted that the text messages were solely sent to Arab citizens and residents who were present at the al-Aqsa Mosque and in the surrounding area. In order to send the text messages, the ISA screened the list of those who were present, not solely by location but also by national identity – namely, on the basis of racial profiling.