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Journalists beware! Interview with Palestinian journalist Muath Hamed

Muath Hamed in occupied Palestine, 2014 [personal archive]
Muath Hamed in occupied Palestine, 2014 [personal archive]

Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, is known for crossing any and all red lines to achieve its goals, which are political, military and security gains for the occupation state. It is at the forefront of Israeli crimes overseas and normalisation with Arab states. As such, it has an important role to play in the occupation state's shadowy foreign policy.

Mossad has a murky history, going back to its establishment by the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion. Investigations in many Arab and other countries have linked it to the murders of scientists, students, journalists, artists, and others of various nationalities.

It also has a history of recruiting Palestinians and Arabs around the world in order to implement political and security goals, including the assassination of people deemed to be working against Israel. Political cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, for example, was killed by a Palestinian-born researcher in London who confessed that he worked for the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Mossad.

A press investigation conducted by Palestinian journalist Muath Hamed in 2019 confirmed that Mossad is working to recruit young Palestinians in Turkey through fake institutions located in European countries. Hamed's report was the reason why Mossad agents interrogated him in Spain, where he lives as a refugee. The interrogation violated all norms, morals, and laws, with the collaboration of the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), which put one of its buildings in Madrid at Mossad's disposal.

Hamed works as a reporter for Arab TV in Spain and as an investigative journalist for a number of websites. He agreed to be interviewed to explain why he was interrogated by Mossad.

Ahmed Hweidi: Please tell us about the report that you published.

Muath Hamed: I published an investigation report a year and a half ago in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper about the nature of Mossad's work and its attempt to recruit young Palestinians in Turkey through fake institutions located in European countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands. These institutions are used as fronts for indirect recruitment of Palestinian youth by deluding them into thinking that they work in the interests of the Palestinians.

These institutions ask the potential recruits for press reports and videos about specific work for which money is transferred in exchange; they exploit the Palestinians' need for money. I proved that these institutions are affiliated with Mossad by tracking money transfers through Money Gram and Western Union from countries such as Romania and Georgia, as well as by tracking the emails that were used to communicate with these young people. Of course, all of the e-mails were sent using a virtual private network (VPN), except one, through which I was able to track the sender to an Israeli intelligence centre in Tel Aviv.

I prepared the report while I was living in Turkey, but I did not dare to publish it before I travelled to Spain and applied for asylum. I feared for my life.

AH: How were you summoned to the investigation? What happened to you at the Civil Guard building? Did they tell you in advance why you were being asked to go there?

MH: The first summons was by phone. The caller identified himself as a member of the Spanish Civil Guard and asked to meet me at the Guard headquarters in Bilbao, which is where I live. He said that it was to complete my asylum application, although the Civil Guard is not responsible for asylum issues. I consulted my lawyer who advised me to go and take all the papers related to my asylum application with me. So I went along, and it was a normal meeting, although there were some questions that the investigating officer asked me that surprised me. For example, he asked what I would do if I met the Israeli Ambassador in Spain. I told him that I am a journalist and I could not meet him at all. So then he asked what I would do if I met the Israeli intelligence officer from the Israeli Embassy. I asked how I would know that he is an intelligence officer. In any case, I would not do anything. With hindsight, I think he wanted to be convinced that I would not do anything to this officer if I met him face to face.

After a while, I received another phone call. The caller told me that they needed me for another interview, but I told them that I was very busy and could not go. They called a third time and said that there are important files pending on the asylum application, and they needed additional clarification on a number of issues. I was asked to go to Madrid on 11 February this year.

As soon as I arrived at the Civil Guard building, I saw the officer who I had met on the first occasion in Bilbao; his name was said to be Javier. He was accompanied by another person; the Israeli intelligence officer, I thought, but I wasn't absolutely certain.

Muath Hamed in Madrid, 2021 [personal archive]

Javier introduced the person to me as a Belgian intelligence officer, but as soon as the stranger spoke to me in Arabic, I became more certain that he was from Mossad. I replied to him in Hebrew and asked him if he spoke Hebrew. The two men were immediately confused, the Spanish officer more than the other; he left the room, but the Israeli intelligence officer stayed with me. His interrogation lasted for an hour and a half. It was conducted in Arabic and he admitted that he was from the Israeli intelligence service. He asked about my entire journey from the moment I left Palestine until the time I entered Spain and sought asylum. This included my time in Turkey, where I stayed for four years. The Spanish officer did not return until 15 minutes before the end of the "chat".

During the investigation, I was threatened directly that I cannot return to Palestine and it is better for me to stay in Spain; that if I returned my life could be in danger. Straight away I remembered the moment when Israeli occupation soldiers targeted me during my coverage of an event in occupied Palestine and wounded me.

The Israeli agent focused most on the report I had prepared; he asked for my sources and wanted to know how I realised that he was an Israeli officer. I think the aim of his interrogation was to know where Mossad had gone wrong and how it could avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Muath Hamed was injured when he was targeted by Israeli occupation soldiers [personal archive]

Of course, I refused to reveal any of my sources. At the end of the interview, the Israeli officer asked to sit with me in future sessions. This suggests strongly that he was planning to recruit me to work for Mossad.

What scared me during the investigation — frankly, it terrified me — is that this Israeli officer knew all the details of my life in Spain, and about my asylum file; he knew my home address, the type of car I drive, and when and where I work. There had been some very close monitoring of my activities in Spain.

AH: How serious and important do you think this incident was? Was it really about security or was it more about your professional media work?

MH: Of course, what happened to me was very dangerous, because it seems that European intelligence services know that there are no red lines. That's dangerous because it suggests that the Europeans are working in cahoots with Israeli intelligence to help them recruit young Palestinians seeking asylum in Europe so that they might become spies or agents in one way or another.

Moreover, the seriousness of what happened lies in the exploitation of young people and Mossad's need to recruit them, which violates European and international standards providing for the protection of refugees. There is also an inherent danger in recruiting a person living under occupation to work for the benefit of the occupier. It's immoral as well as dangerous.

Muath Hamed with the Courage Award at the Turkey Film Festival, Istanbul 2018 [YouTube]

Muath Hamed with the Courage Award at the Turkey Film Festival, Istanbul 2018 [YouTube]

What happened to me has happened to many Palestinians in Europe and elsewhere. This is well known among Palestinians, but young people generally lack such awareness and are afraid to reveal what has happened with them. It is probably the first time that a journalist has exposed this issue. I am also perhaps the first journalist to be interrogated by Mossad in Europe in such a way and for such a purpose, and then to speak out about it and take legal action.

What happened to me broke all the rules covering the work of journalists, because we know that Europe defends such work and respects the fact that journalists' sources are confidential. However, with what happened to me there was a clear lack of respect for journalism and exploitation of the fact that I am a refugee and a foreign journalist; that I am not a citizen with full rights.

Do you feel anxious for your life after this incident? Will it make you think twice in terms of your work as a journalist?

MH: Frankly, anxiety is always present, but I am now trying to be more attentive and aware of what I do and where I am; how I got there and how I get back; who I met, and who I saw along the way. I look at people a lot and have become suspicious of anyone and everyone. If I see the same person twice in one day I doubt their intentions. So yes, that makes me anxious for my life.

I also worry that the Spanish Civil Guard may take revenge on me, endanger my life or even kill me. Or do something at my home or to my car; or lay false charges against me. What happened could also be used against me in my asylum application. I now think — and I am serious about this — that I made a mistake in choosing this country for asylum. I may well leave Spain for somewhere else in Europe; somewhere that will grant myself and my profession some more respect.

AH: Do you have any message for Arab and Palestinian media professionals in Europe and the West in general?

MH: The most important message is that security awareness is very important for any journalist, and we Palestinian journalists are required to be extra careful because of our profession and our cause. Summonses from security agencies should not be made over the phone, that's for sure. They must arrive accompanied by a formal letter delivered at home. And legal advice is important before taking any step in any direction. Finally, we must be aware of our legal rights so that we do not get confused or exploited by any government employee or institution.

AH: Muath Hamed, thank you very much.

The video shows the targeting of Muath Hamed

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