We Are Watching You: Surveillance and Intelligence in Palestine

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Issue . 66
P. 3
We Are Watching You: Surveillance and Intelligence in Palestine

In his contribution to this issue of Jerusalem Quarterly, Elia Zureik notes the pervasiveness of surveillance in the Israeli matrix of control over the daily lives of Palestinians.

Palestinians experience a generalized feeling of being watched and surveilled. Body searches, identity documentation, standing in line for hours awaiting a signal from Israeli soldiers to either proceed or be turned away are emblematic of the checkpoint experience, which is characterized by dehumanization, lack of sovereignty, and overall limitation on free movement. Population registration – including the census and the permit regimes governing the movement of people that Israel introduced in the pre- and post-1967 periods in the name of state security – was crafted in such a way as to further spatial control and the expansion of Jewish colonies, restrict mobility, and stunt economic development of the Arab sector. With walls and fences, checkpoints, watchtowers, and segregation barriers in the background, not to mention the panoply of high-technology surveillance machinery, researchers point out that the permit regime is best viewed as the intersection of carceral (body) control, mobility, and biopolitics.

Surveillance as seen here, while basically an instrument of supervision, takes on a form of spying by the state on its citizens – or in this case, its colonial subjects. In this collection of essays, we examine the history of these practices in Jerusalem and Palestine from the Ottoman period until the present. Spying and surveillance have had illustrious, if not infamous, histories in the Holy Land. Ancient imperial powers, and many modern ones,mobilized their resources to seek control over the land of Canaan. From the story of Rehab the Prostitute and the spies of Joshua Ben Nun in Jericho to the cameras that monitor the daily movement of Jerusalemites in the Old City today, the objective has been to monitor, assess, interpret, and ultimately control the population.

In this issue of JQ, we also examine lesser-known episodes in this checkered business. One is the career of Charles Boutagy, a member of the Haifa bourgeoisie who joined Nili, a clandestine ring spying on Ottoman military movement on behalf of the British. Though Boutagy’s later memoirs are quite coy about his role, here Johnny Mansour examines them in combination with other sources to arrive at a clearer understanding of pro-British espionage in Palestine during World War I. Another is the curious and fascinating life of Husayn Ruhi, who was hired by Ronald Storrs – later governor of Jerusalem – to undertake tasks ranging from the diplomatic to the clandestine on behalf of the British during World War I. Hilary Falb Kalisman traces Ruhi’s path from wartime spy to Mandate-era educator. Ruhi and Boutagy join a short list of Arabs who worked on behalf of British intelligence, as compared to those known for, or assumed to be working on behalf of the Ottoman intelligence during the same period, including Najib Malhamé (as discussed elsewhere by Jens Hanssen), ‘Adil Jabir (as discussed by Ihsan Turjman in his war memoirs), and Muhammad Kurd ‘Ali (who treated the issue of loyalty and betrayal by Syrian-Palestinian intellectuals to the state in his Damascus memoirs).

Indeed, the Ottomans developed a significant intelligence operation in this period, and Polat Safi provides insight into the workings of Teshkelat Makhsusa, the Ottoman intelligence organization in the Levant during the war. Of course locals were not the only parties involved in spying during the war, and Roberto Mazza introduces the work of Father Antonin Jaussen, the famous archeologist and Orientalist, who spied for the French and the British in Palestine while sympathizing with the natives. The links between archaeology and surveillance have a long and tangled history in Palestine – as evidenced in the Palestine Exploration Fund, whose extensive mapping of settlements and sites remains on of the most original surveys undertaken in the modern history of Palestine – and Jaussen was one of three outstanding archeologists who used archeology as a cover for their intelligence work on behalf of the European powers, the other two being Max von Oppenheim (for Germany) and T. E. Lawrence (for Great Britain).

Moving from the first to the second half of the twentieth century, Musa Budeiri discusses his personal experience with the captured Jordanian security archives in Jerusalem covering the period of Jordanian administration of the West Bank prior to the 1967 war. And bringing us into the present, both Elia Zureik and Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian (whose work is reviewed here by Penny Johnson) examine the sociology of contemporary surveillance in Jerusalem and the occupied territories. Meanwhile, a selection of recent documents focuses on the punitive revocation of Jerusalem residency for Palestinians. In particular, the introduction of a new basis for punitive revocation – “breach of allegiance to the state of Israel” – indicates the ever-increasing discipline that Israeli rule demands. Given the degree to which Palestinians have lived and continue to live their lives under surveillance, a second upcoming issue of JQ will serve as a companion to this one, further examining questions of surveillance and spying.

This issue is rounded out by Emanuel Beška’s article “‘The Disgrace of the Twentieth Century’: The Beilis Affair in Filastin Newspaper.” Beška discusses the commentary published by Filastin and its editor, Yusuf al-‘Isa, on the 1913 “blood libel” trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis, the superintendent of a Kiev brickworks, for the 1911 murder of a thirteen-year-old boy, which triggered a wave of anti-Semitism in pre-revolutionary Russia. ‘Isa’s and Filastin’s defense of Beilis and the anti-Zionist newspaper’s clear stance against anti-Semitism in that period sheds important light on the early history of Filastin.

During the month of June 2016, two dear Jerusalemites, both members of the JQ advisory board, passed way. Ibrahim Dakkak, chair of the advisory board, passed away during the preparation of this issue. Dakkak was one of those outstanding Jerusalemites who thought of Palestine in terms of his city, and of the predicament of Jerusalem as that of the country. We commemorate his passing by re-issuing an interview we conducted with him two decades ago. Although JQ will miss Dakkak’s steady support, we are pleased to announce the inauguration of the Ibrahim Dakkak Award, which will be granted to an original essay contributing to the understanding of contemporary or historical issues relating to Jerusalem. JQ also mourns the passing of Asia Habash, who was past director of the Ramallah Women’s Training Center in al-Tira and the head of the Early Childhood Resource Center in Jerusalem. Both were great supporters of JQ from its inception in Shaykh Jarrah, and followed its growth from the “Jerusalem File” into a full-fledged quarterly.


Asia Habash (1938–2016) The Jerusalem Quarterly notes with great sadness the passing of a great Palestinian educator and activist Dr. Asia Habash, former member of the JQ Advisory Committee.