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Israel office for relations with Jerusalemite Palestinians dominated by ex-Shin Bet agents

Palestinians react against the march of Jews at Jerusalem’s Old City on 2 June 2019. [Faiz Abu Rmeleh - Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli government office dedicated to relations with Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem is predominantly staffed by former agents of domestic security agency Shin Bet, Haaretz has revealed.

According to the paper's report, 12 of the office's 17 staffers are former Shin Bet personnel, including both its current director and his predecessor. Israeli officials denied the accuracy of these numbers but "declined to provide exact figures".

The office is formally known as the unit for involving the East Jerusalem public, and was established six years ago by Ofer Or, a former senior official in the Shin Bet's Jerusalem district.

When the Israeli cabinet decided to allocate more funds to East Jerusalem last year, "the unit was assigned responsibility for maintaining relations with East Jerusalem residents on the government's behalf", Haaretz reported.

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The work of the office has been criticised both by the right-wing and by Palestinians.

Pro-settler councillor Arieh King, for example, last week took to Facebook to slam the unit as failing to promote "the right wing's agenda in the city because the unit was comprised mainly of former Shin Bet agents, who oppose this agenda". The post was soon deleted.

"I never agree with Arieh King, but he's right," one East Jerusalem Palestinian told Haaretz. "You have to bring people who understand engineering and master plans, not how to prevent a terror attack. They act as if they were still in the Shin Bet, using sticks rather than carrots."

According to the paper, most of the "Palestinian and Israeli activists, municipal employees and government employees" questioned about the unit "agreed that the prevalence of former Shin Bet agents was a problem".

Shin Bet plays a critical role in the maintenance of Israel's military regime in the occupied Palestinian territory and suppression of Palestinian resistance. The agency's work includes interrogation – often accompanied by torture – and recruitment of collaborators.

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