This week, the Israeli “Peace Now” organization revealed that it has been conducting aerial surveillance of Israeli Jewish communities in Judea, Jerusalem and Samaria in order to determine the extent of settlement expansion. At the same time, the Israeli Knesset Parliamentary Interior Committee held a special session to discuss foreign government funding of Israeli leftwing movements.
Documents shared with the Knesset Interior Committee confirmed that the Peace Now organization received a budget in the amount of 50,000 Euros from the government of Finland to conduct intelligence activities in Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, the Golan, Gaza and Jerusalem.
The Knesset Committee examined a Peace Now grant application to the government of Finland that indicated how Peace Now intended to use the grant. This included regular bi-monthly ground surveys to be conducted with the purpose of documenting the numbers of empty houses in settlements and ongoing construction in settlements. This work engages tens of volunteers, who travel around the West Bank in cars (armored if possible) tracking developments.
Also included was a provision for aerial photography: twice a month a light plane is rented in order to allow “settlement” watch staff to ascertain the extent of ongoing physical expansion in existing “settlements.” Once a baseline survey is completed, subsequent surveys can be used to measure expansion using GIS satellite positioning overlays. The document stated that this “mechanism will yield tangible graphic and quantitative data for the public."
Peace Now defined its objectives to the government of Finland in the following manner:
"To monitor settlement developments on the ground, accurately and reliably; to make this information available to the Israeli and international publics; to advance the fulfillment of the Road Map."
Peace Now identifies the "target groups" for the government of Finland as the "Israeli public, the Israeli political leadership, International Diplomatic Corps and Israeli and international press."
Peace Now defined the "final result of the activities" for the government of Finland as “Regular and reliable reports, in real time, disclosing the situation of settlement construction; regular and reliable reports, in real times, monitoring the dismantlement of outposts and settlements according to requirements of the Road Map; contacts with diplomats, leaders and press in order to convey reliable information on all aspect of settlement issues."
Despite its insistence that it is an "educational foundation" that seeks to serve the Israeli public, it is obvious that Peace Now is far from being an indigenous Israeli organization, functioning instead as an agent for foreign governments. In fact, it indicated in the Finnish grant request that it also received $100,000 from the Americans and 150,000 Euros from "European Foundations" for its “settlement watch project.”
A spokesperson for Peace Now stated that the "European Foundations" mentioned in their grant request to the Finnish government were actually funds from the European Union. In other words, Peace Now receives the bulk of its funding from other foreign European governments, few of which have been favorable to Israel’s plight in the War on Terror.
The Israel Penal Code for Espionage was distributed to Knesset Interior Committees, and clause 3 defines “photography of sensitive areas of Israel for any foreign power” as an act of espionage, punishable by ten years imprisonment if convicted. Dr. Yuri Stern, Chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, announced that he would ask his legal counsel to examine the matter and report back to the committee if there were indeed grounds for application of the Israel Penal Code’s special clauses on espionage against Peace Now.
While the Knesset interior committee members carefully listened and examined the documents relating to allegations of felonious activity by Peace Now, the Peace Now lobbyist, Behira Bardugo, screamed at Committee Chairman Dr. Stern and accused the committee of not investigating those who financed the campaign to defeat Ariel Sharon in the recent referendum campaign over the Prime Minister’s unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza. When Stern explained that there is a difference between funding from a private individual and funding that is received from a government, Bardugo reacted with surprise, and simply said that there is no difference.
Apart from the matter of funding, the major problem is that Peace Now documents sensitive information that can be used to jeopardize not only Israel’s public, but also its military. The Peace Now settlement expansion maps include military installations and the maps are featured in all PLO offices. Israeli army bases have been attacked and Israeli soldiers killed. These are the sons and daughters of Israel drafted to protect the country against a dangerous and heinous enemy.
Thus, Peace Now is not engaged in a simple matter of documenting settlements; rather, the organization provides information that can easily used against Israel. In these cases, every bit of information counts. Everything is relevant when it comes to protecting the people of Israel.
For instance, in late May 2002, a settlement watch group organized by the “Christian Peace Makers Team” reported to its e-mail list that it had successfully photographed the fence surrounding the Carmei Tzur settlement. The CPT proudly reported that it had shown several breaches in the fence. The next day, the CSM met with the Fateh (Arafat’s mainstream terror group) in Bethlehem. Two days later, late at night, armed members of the Fateh infiltrated the Carmei Tzur settlement at the precise breach that the CPT had photographed. The Fateh used that breach to murder a civilian couple in their bed. The wife was eight months pregnant.
The decision will now rest with Israel’s legal system whether and how to enforce the espionage clauses of the Israel Penal Code for those organizations who choose to photograph the most sensitive landscapes of Israel on the payroll and at the behest of foreign governments.