Warning Conversations at Ben Gurion
Over the past two months, several incidents have been reported involving the detention of workers in civil society organizations at Ben Gurion Airport upon returning from abroad. The Shin Bet has also resumed its practice of summoning human rights or political activists to “warning conversations.” Two months ago, ACRI wrote to the Attorney General to complain about the detention of the Executive Director of the Coalition of Women for Peace and of a journalist from Social Television at Ben Gurion Airport upon the demand of Shin Bet. Each activist was detained for a certain length of time after landing from abroad and subsequently released without being asked any questions.
In 2013 we petitioned the Supreme Court, challenging the authority of the Shin Bet to summons social and political activists to “warning conversations.” Although the Court ruled that Shin Bet is empowered to hold such conversations, it set binding rules for their conduct.
On July 31, 2018, ACRI wrote to the Petitions Department of the State Attorney’s Office concerning the earlier incidents and two additional cases in which activists were summoned to “warning conversations” by the Shin Bet, and stated:
“Each of the cases described above is grave in its own right, but taken together they paint a depressing and alarming picture of the ongoing harassment of civil society organizations and activists, including the participation of Shin Bet in the campaign of delegitimization they face.
Moreover, the two recent incidents violated the provisions established in HCJ 5277/13, Association for Civil Rights in Israel v Shin Bet (the petition against Shin Bet’s “warning conversations.”) In the case of Mr. Kronberg, the authorities did not respect the provision that 'it is to be clarified to the investigatee that the questioning is voluntary and that he or she is not obliged to report for it' (para. 35b of the ruling). In the case of Mr. Rothman-Zecher, he did not even receive a summons, and during the conversation itself he was not informed that he was entitled not to participate.
Regarding the three instances of detention at Ben Gurion Airport – and particularly the most recent incident – the Shin Bet appears to have abused the border control officers at the airport, and its own presence at the site, for purposes that have nothing to do with preventing attacks on Israeli aviation or with supervising the security arrangements at the site (cf. the arguments of the State Attorney’s Office concerning Shin Bet’s functions and powers at the airport, in numerous responses and in the Statement of Response in HCJ 4797/07, Association for Civil Rights in Israel v Israel Airports Authority (profiling of Arabs in security checks at the airport).
It is also unclear what power or function of the Shin Bet empowers the agency to engage in delegitimization actions as reflected in the conduct of the agent who met with Mr. Kronberg.
Accordingly, we will be grateful if you can clarify these instances as soon as possible in order to end this grave phenomenon in its infancy, since it has a chilling effect on all civil society organizations and activists. We also ask you to ensure that the Shin Bet strictly observes its own procedures and the Supreme Court’s instructions regarding the exceptional cases in which it has been determined that it is empowered to hold 'warning conversations.'"