The recent interrogation incidents upon foreigners arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport have aroused much attention both in Israel and abroad.
Two significant cases are those of Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American citizen, author, and critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinians. The more recent was the interrogation of noted American author and scholar, Peter Beinart.
There are conflicting reports of the nature of the interrogations. In the case of Mr. Aslan, he stated that during his questioning by the Shin Bet he was threatened that he would not see his children ever again if he did not cooperate. The Shin Bet has denied Aslan’s claim.
It is possible and probable that the Shin Bet sometimes over-reacts in its zealous endeavors to maintain the security of our country and our citizens. But it is their sworn duty to protect us from all dangers.
I have great respect for the Shin Bet. It was founded on February 8, 1949 by Isser Harel. He and I share the same Hebrew name and I am proud of it.
The motto of the Shin Bet clarifies what our national security police symbolizes.
“Magen v’Lo Yera’e”… “The Defender that shall not be seen” or “The unseen shield”.
Over the past 69 years we have been protected from thousands of alleged plots, terrorist activities, espionage and countless murders and attacks due to the intelligence and strength of our devoted and diligent defenders.
I had only one personal experience with the Shin Bet and it turned out to be a pleasant one.
In summer of 1969 I returned from a visit in Poland where I had been officially invited. While there I was interviewed by several Polish newspapers and television pertaining in particular to the tragic anti-Semitic policies in the 1968-1969 years, during which thousands of Polish Jews were fired from their jobs and thousands sought to emigrate from the country.
One of the first questions asked of me was “have you seen any anti-Jewish activities during your short stay in Poland?” And I had to truly reply that I did not. I cited that I attended the Estera Kaminska Yiddish theater in Warsaw to watch the play “Skarb Cezara”… the Emperor’s Treasure. The theater was packed by non-Jewish Poles who wore earphones to hear the translation from Yiddish to Polish. Only two people were not wearing earphones…me and Zygmunt, another Jew.
At the end of the performance Zygmunt approached me and asked me in Yiddish where I was from. He invited me to join him in a local café for ice cream, cakes and tea. He was a bookkeeper for a company in Warsaw and told me that while he was not physically abused nor fired, he could frequently hear his co-workers referring to him, not by his name but as the “zyd”.. the Jew.
Once on the train from Warsaw to Krakow, I brought with me a copy of “Glos Ludu”, the weekly Yiddish newspaper “Folksztymme”. When a conductor entered the compartment to collect our tickets he saw the newspaper on the seat next to me and signaled me to step into the corridor.
He told me that he was a Jew and had been an officer in the Polish army until early 1969 when he was dismissed during the purges. He had now become a conductor on the Polish railroad.
These things I did mention when I was asked about having seen anti-Semitic activity during my visit.
Upon my return to Israel, I was living in my mother-in-law’s home in the Montefiore section of Tel-Aviv.
One day after my arrival, while I was shaving, my wife opened the door to a man who was knocking. He asked to see me, told me his name, and said that I was wanted in the Kirya in Sarona. He did not tell me the reason but his pleasant attitude gave me the impression that I was not in any trouble.
I was escorted into a small room and a gentleman asked me to be seated. He knew of my visit in Poland and had read copies of my interviews in the Polish press. He politely asked me a few questions and wanted to know the reason for my visit to Poland. He offered me a glass of water while I was telling him of my experiences.
After some minutes, he shook my hand and thanked me for coming in and welcomed me back to Israel.
When I explained the mysterious visit to my wife’s family, they all agreed that I had been interviewed by the Shin Bet.
I was treated with complete respect and cordiality. And ever since that first and only meeting I have been a defender of the Defenders, the devoted men and women whose lives are dedicated to our security.
Isser Harel, whose Hebrew name I share, can be very proud of his Shin Bet. They may not be seen but they are there…. Defending every citizen of the State of Israel.