« The danger in coming out of the trenches too soon | Main | Photo Friday (vol. LXVIII) [jumbled cave edition] »

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Unsung Swarthy Heroes

One of the regular commenters here at treppenwitz shared a troubling thought on yesterday's post that I seem to get nearly every time I mention my belief that most Palestinians are regular people who have the same kind of family and financial concerns as we do, and who are not actively working towards, or even actively hoping for, the destruction of Israel. 

He said:

"I have a suggestion for all the wonderful Arabs who want to make nice with Israel from Gaza and the West Bank.  You want hostilities to stop and to have a normal life?  Become spies for Israel within the murderous terror orgs of your brothers."

This commenter is no dummy.  He has been around the Sun a few more times than I have, and has a lot of good solid information at his fingertips with which to support his worldview.  His only problem is that he is human, and has fallen into the very human habit of willfully ignoring inconvenient facts that don't jibe with what he sees and hears.

Spying is a dirty, dangerous business.  When people do it against our national interests (think Mordechai Vannunu, Udi Aviv, Marcus Klingberg), we want to string them up from the nearest lamp post... or at least let them rot in jail forever. 

But when someone, for whatever reason, does it for us (think Eli Cohen, Jonathan Pollard and countless others who's names we will probably never know), they are heroes of the first order!

So with that in mind, let me tell you a story.  Pay close attention to the details.  I can almost guarantee you'll miss the important ones:

Prologue: A Palestinian terrorist gets on a bus or walks into a crowded restaurant and blows him/herself up, snuffing out a few dozen innocent lives and maiming scores more in the process.  The public settles in to follow the familiar acts in this well-worn libretto:

Act One: 'The pas de duex'... This opening dance features terse sound bites exchanged between a suitably somber public official (usually a police or government spokesman) and an inappropriately eager/bright-eyed media talking head.  They have no real information to share at this point so instead they rehash a standard police statement that there had been 150 individual intelligence warnings of an impending attack during the previous two weeks.  This act is mostly filler used to kill time while the camera crews arrive on scene.

Act Two: 'Impressionist Dreamscape'... Through the weird tunnel vision of a zoom lens the first camera crews on the scene show the audience their first glimpse of the carnage... an exhibition of ordinary everyday objects (cafe tables, buses, bus shelters, mall entrances, etc.) bent and mangled into improbable angles and locations that would make Salvador Dali proud.

Act Three: 'Blair Witch Videography'... The press video crews, having become emboldened, leave their distant vantage points behind the police tape and venture on foot towards the epicenter of the carnage.  This transitory act takes it's name from the choppy news footage that is so reminiscent of the shaky hand-held camera work in the low budget 1999 film from which the act takes its name.

Act Four: 'The Voyeur'... Though we want to look away at this point, the Blair Witch camera crews have dashed in past wildly gesturing security personnel and treated us to the grisly images of blood oozing out from under lumpy plastic tarps, and ZAKA crews buzzing around like bearded yellow bumblebees bagging bits of unidentifiable matter that our minds would rather not catalog.

Act Five:  'The justification'... Now that our emotions have been primed to be properly receptive, we are introduced to a Palestinian 'spokes-liar' doing his best 'We condemn this unfortunate act' bit where he says with great resignation that "EEZ-RAH-EYL-EE [they always pronounce it in that 5-syllible cadence that makes it sound like an Arabic curse... which it sort of is if you think about it], atrocities and genocide against the Palestinian people have led to this unfortunate, spontaneous display of Palestinian frustration." 

Act Six: 'The Celebration'... The last image we are usually shown... and therefore the image that stays with us the longest... is the obligatory tight angle shot of celebrating Palestinian crowds dancing in the street and passing out sweets to little children.


OK, let's look at this tragic opera for a moment through more critical eyes and talk about what we have actually seen... as well as what we probably haven't:

  • Yes, there was a terror attack which - Palestinian claims of spontaneity not withstanding - required a fair amount of advanced planning, funding and logistical support to carry out.
  • Yes, the suitably unctuous Palestinian spokes-liar might as well send in file footage for all the variation in his usual statement.
  • Yes, it is infuriating to see anyone celebrating the murder of our people.

But let's think for a moment about how many Palestinians we have actually seen in action here: 

  • There's the bomber and his support/logistics crew... which might be as many as 30 or 40 people. 
  • There's the spokes-liar and the government he represents... that's another 150 or so.
  • And of course there are the celebrants we saw dancing in the street... another 75 to 100 people (remember that tight camera angle?  That was so the film crew could get the bunch of day laborers and coffee drinkers who were sitting quietly in the cafe two minutes earlier to look like an enormous crowd). 

So in fairness, what we have seen here is no more than 300 Palestinians.  What we usually do with this information is extrapolate the words and deeds of those people onto the millions of Palestinians we don't see in order to formulate our worldview.

Don't feel bad... you're in good company here.  The typical Palestinian (heck, most of the world!) uses this same kind of flawed statistical sampling to form their opinion about Israelis/Jews as well.  The only difference is that we cry foul... and they mostly don't. 

But there is one small piece of information we are given during nearly every performance of this tragic opera that almost all of us dismiss without a second thought.  Didn't catch it?  Think back to Act One

While the talking heads were killing time waiting for the camera crews to arrive on the scene, they rehashed some seemingly inconsequential information that every Israeli news outlet receives on a daily basis; the number of terror warnings that were received.  This is a stupid factoid that only becomes relevant when a terror attack takes place... or when one is averted. 

However, few of us actually stop to think about the ramifications of this information's existence. 

Even when we read in the paper about the execution of a Palestinian 'collaborator', it still never dawns on us to put that event together with the innocuous statements about terror warnings.

Much as we would all like to believe that there is a Mossad agent hiding under every rock in Ramallah, the truth is that almost all of Israel's hard intelligence on the various Palestinian terror networks comes from Palestinians.  All the satellite imagery and electronic eavesdropping in the world can't hold a candle to 'HUMINT' (human intelligence) provided by a well placed spy deep inside the enemy camp.  These men and women risk their lives... and the lives of their families... for reasons that still elude me. 

A friend once told me how, during a stint of reserve duty, he was horrified to see an IDF officer walk over to one of a large group of Palestinian prisoners who had been rounded up in the previous night's sweep and begin slapping him viciously in the face.  Within minutes the man was dragged away from his fellow prisoners and led bleeding and groaning from the room.  One-by-one the others got the same treatment.

It was only the next day that this officer confided in him that one of the prisoners was a regular informant who had urgent information about an impending suicide attack (it was averted, thank G-d).  He had signaled his handlers that he didn't trust his regular channels of communications and needed to be debriefed in person.  The only way to do this without raising the suspicions of the villagers was for the IDF to round up a random bunch of men from his area and then, during a bit of staged (but very real) brutality, drag him off to a suitably private debriefing room.

As I said, I'm not really sure what motivates these informants.  It probably isn't overt patriotism since they can't really expect to ever have a real stake in the Zionist enterprise... at least not the way we imagine our stake.  And it probably isn't financial motivation since whatever the IDF and Shin Bet are spreading around among the literally thousands of Palestinian informants, it can't possibly be worth risking a bullet in the back of the head. 

So who knows... maybe these brave men and women just hate to see innocent people killed.  You and I are capable of this noble sentiment, so it really just might be as simple as that.

Whatever the reason, even though I still firmly believe that we are at war with the Palestinians, and that the entire Palestinian people are my enemy (at least until such until such time as peace breaks out), I know with perfect certainty that each time I hear about IDF troops catching a bomber on the way to to carry out an attack (which happens several times a month), or when a bunch of wanted terrorists are rounded up without incident in the middle of the night by a team of IDF commandos... that one of these unlikely spies has stepped up and risked his life in order to save a bunch of people he will almost certainly never meet.

So please remember these unsung swarthy heroes the next time you read the news about a successful IDF operation... and before leaving thoughtless comments on anyone's blog.


Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2006 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Unsung Swarthy Heroes:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Maybe a Palestinian collaborator is the Arab equivalent to any Israeli member of Gush Shalom . Simply willing to meet the enemy and sell out their own people for a screwed up ideology.

(Got that out of my system).

As for motivations.

I met a couple of informants while in the army. Some of them needed money for drugs. Some were in clan wars and needed protection (yes, we do give informants guns). Some are town leaders that wanted to keep their positions of power (which, when the IDF was in charge was easy for them to arrange). Some were actually setup by the security services and warned that their 'assistance' would be publicized if they didn't help more. Some wanted family members out of jail. Some wanted to emmigrate.

It's just a matter of finding out what motivates someone.

Whereas Gush Shalom and Shalom Achshav seem to be motivated enough just hating Settlers.

Obviously there are also those that realized that life under Israel is better than life under the PA, and even those that may be motivated by the concepts of good and evil, and those are the brave ones, that Israel needs to look after instead of abandoning them to their fate.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jun 29, 2006 2:24:31 PM

Joe Settler... OK, let me ask you the following question:

You find out that a terrorist was just apprehended a few blocks from your kid's school and it turns out that the school was the intended target. Do you really care whether the reasons the informer tipped off the IDF were altruistic or self-serving?

I'm thinking you look at your kid for the rest of your life and thank G-d that this guy stepped up and took the risk. I'm also guessing that the word 'hero' might come to mind.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 29, 2006 3:01:27 PM

If an apprehended thief cuts an immunity deal with the DA and as a result a serial murderer is caught...

Is the thief the hero, or the cops that caught him and the DA that got him to talk?

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jun 29, 2006 3:41:23 PM

Just to remind you. In your neck of the woods, around a year ago or so (right near the tunnels), a Shabbak handler went to meet his Palestinian informant.

The Shabbak handler was murdered - by his informant.

Now this informant had supplied the Shabbak with plenty of information in the past that stopped terrorist attacks.

Does the word 'hero' still come to mind?

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jun 29, 2006 3:46:52 PM

Joe Settler... Now you're just being contrary (not to mention silly). In my example a person who didn't have to save your kid's school from an impending attack did so. In your scenario a serial killer who may or may not have had the opportunity to harm someone you know is apprehended.

I asked YOU for YOUR level of appreciation to the informer. If that is too hard for you to cough up then perhaps you don't deserve to benefit from his information... regardless of the motivation that led him/her to provide it.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 29, 2006 3:48:09 PM

You clearly missed the last sentence in my first comment.

those that may be motivated by the concepts of good and evil, and those are the brave ones, that Israel needs to look after instead of abandoning them to their fate.

I definitely appreciate those that do it because they are good people. But to assume that the majority or even a significant number of informants are doing so out of the goodness of their heart as opposed to certain pressures being applied against them is silly (I just wanted to use that word back).

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jun 29, 2006 3:57:12 PM

Joe Settler... Sorry. Part of being in a discussion is allowing yourself to actually listen to what the other person is saying. Stop trying to score points. You've obviously confused my comment board with the Jr. Varsity debating team.

I offered an example (one which you promptly ignored) that I had hoped would allow you to see that for the beneficiary of an informant's tips, the spy's motivation is completely irrelevant.

I'm not bothered that you didn't get that... but I am bothered that you continue to try to win a tangential point that had little to do with my post.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 29, 2006 4:08:28 PM

I would say that either I don't get your point, or that you didn't get mine.

Let me directly answer your questions:

Would I care about the motivations of the informer? No, I'd be happy my kid and school is safe.

Would I consider the informer a hero?

That would depend solely on his motivations - which is what my response indicated.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jun 29, 2006 4:19:45 PM

David- Thanks for the worthwhile post. It's been clear to me for quite some time that Shabak must have extensive contacts in the territories, and that for whatever reason, they oftentimes get detailed foreknowledge of terrorist attacks. These warnings, despite the inevitable media frenzy after an attack happens, are instrumental in preventing untold terrorist attacks.

Regardless of the motivation, I can only imagine about the courage it would take for a Palestinian who knows enough to give detailed warnings about a future attack (and hence must have some connections) to a group who is purportedly his enemy.

One last bit...

"Much as we would all like to believe that there is a Mossad agent hiding under every rock in Ramallah..."

Have to say this line had me chuckling. Just the image of a Mossad agent creeping out from under a boulder in some Pink Panther-esque imitation of policework had me on the floor. *shakes head* Guess there hasn't been enough non-serious stuff in the news for the last few days... my sense of humor must need some help. *grins*


Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 29, 2006 4:27:08 PM

"unsung swarthy heroes"

Who said they were all swarthy?

Posted by: lisoosh | Jun 29, 2006 5:21:28 PM

lisoosh, it was my understanding that David was intentionally pandering to the stereotype of Arabs in an attempt to contrast it to their 'heroism', which is decidedly not a part of the classical Israeli view.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 29, 2006 5:31:44 PM

David, do you have concrete information about the numbers of informants vs. numbers of Mossad agents, or are you creating a scenario from wishful thinking? How many do you think really spy on their own people because they think that suicide bombing is wrong, or do it for selfish reasons? (and yes, the information is the information, and we shouldn't care how it is attained and be grateful for it. But that is a far cry from giving all of the informants a medal)

Posted by: westbankmama | Jun 29, 2006 5:55:31 PM

"Much as we would all like to believe that there is a Mossad agent hiding under every rock in Ramallah..."

Actually we want the Palestinians to believe this. It is good for all us.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 29, 2006 7:27:21 PM

I just hope the Mossad has a really creative and failsafe method of paying substantial sums to informants. Prepaid cell phones and numbered accounts come to mind. I wouldn't think half a mil or so was too much to stop a suicide bomber. Cheap actually. I also like the thought of what's going through the bombers mind as he contemplates which of his 'brothers' may be the one cashing in on him.

Posted by: Scott | Jun 29, 2006 9:01:08 PM

It is indeed very true that the direct beneficiaries (as in "common people" ) probably don't and shouldn't care where that information comes from. However, someone somewhere should keep all those motivations in mind, because every act of informing does or at some point will have its price.

Posted by: Irina | Jun 29, 2006 9:10:24 PM


So in fairness, what we have seen here is no more than 300 Palestinians. What we usually do with this information is extrapolate the words and deeds of those people onto the millions of Palestinians we don't see in order to formulate our worldview.
- - - - - - - - - - - -

Are we allowed to judge the Palestinian people by the results of the last election?

By the total lack of a real grass-roots movement for peace - not coexistence, it's obscene to even consider that, but how about just peace - like the Catholic mothers marching in Ireland saying "you don't represent us with your violence"?

I am willing to believe that most of the Arabs in the villages around me are not political creatures.

I am equally willing to believe that they have as much healthy self-interest as anyone else - including a healthy sense of grievance at the new Jewish sovereignty in an area that they once considered theirs - and would be delighted to drive us into the sea.

I am also willing to believe that their moral compass is very different than ours.

Your motives are noble, but you are falling into the trap of romanticizing the Arabs - and in your own small way, infantilizing them just like the extreme lefties do.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jun 29, 2006 9:53:21 PM


I visit treppenwitz very often these days mainly to read and digest those "inconvenient facts" you cite towards the beginning of your original post.

There are times when I question- and somewhat disagree- with points you've made. (For the time being I keep my potential responses to myself- maybe at some time I'll toss up a long-winded reply. I came close here, but not yet).

But none of that changes the fact (to me) that this essay by you was one of the most brilliant and insightful things I've read in a long time. By anyone...

Be well, be safe, and if you're in contact with the other "Neshoma Orchestra-emeritus" guys we both know, give them my best...

Mike S

Posted by: Mike Spengler | Jun 29, 2006 10:21:17 PM

You are soooo Jewish in your thinking (in contrast to Muslim) - so I mean that as high praise. In the face of clearcut Arab malice and duplicity, you search for something laudatory (whereas a Muslim searches for malicious and duplicious motives in the face of all your laudatory deeds).

Now, I'd be the last to argue that we shouldn't honor the good others do, but though we honor the rattle snake as a "hero" for his killing the rat, must we then conclude that the rattler had G-d's good and our blessing in mind? Do you think it possible that G-d uses even the wrath of man to praise Him (Ps 76:10), or that what others intend for evil, God uses for good (Gen 50:20)?

True, we can only look at outward appearances, but Hashem looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). To Him -- motives matter! How very paternalistic it would be of us to imagine that we are the judge whose opinion counts.

Posted by: Bob | Jun 30, 2006 1:16:39 AM

As usual, you are not only a wonderful writer, but capture the issue in a profound way. I am so glad you are expressing your feelings and thoughts about what is happening in Israel, otherwise all I'd hear is what the U.S. media thinks is newsworthy. I wish I had something profound to say here, but you just blow me out of the water consistently. May G-d keep you and your family safe.

Posted by: Tracey | Jun 30, 2006 10:13:22 AM

David, you ended this post by mentioning "thoughtless comments" so I hope you don't mind if I counter a point made by a commenter here:

"Maybe a Palestinian collaborator is the Arab equivalent to any Israeli member of Gush Shalom . Simply willing to meet the enemy and sell out their own people for a screwed up ideology."

"Whereas Gush Shalom and Shalom Achshav seem to be motivated enough just hating Settlers."

To clarify: Many members of Gush Shalom definitely view the settlement movement, rightly or wrongly, as an obstacle to a two-state solution, towards which they are striving. However, implying that "hatred"- especially for their fellow Jews- motivates participation in the peace movement is just plain B******t. As is the very notion of comparing Jewish and Arab Israelis who choose to campaign for a political agenda with Palestinians who choose- or are pressurised for all manner of reasons from admirable to not-so- into providing crucial information to "enemy" forces.

Sorry, had to get that out of *my* system. Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by: PP | Jun 30, 2006 12:04:43 PM

Salute to those brave ladies and gentlemen (doing the right thing)…You might be surprised David that there’re those who assist the ‘Zionist enterprise’ for what it is and even International Law cannot define their unusual patriotism.

Be Well and Safe, my friend. :)

Posted by: pk | Jun 30, 2006 1:35:58 PM

I realize that this partly off-topic but do we have to use the word "collaborator?" I'm sure the the Palestinians have chosen the word very carefully and the unthinking media have accepted the usage uncritically.
How many of those Arabs who have been killed for the crime of helping Israel really helped Israel? I thought the charge of helping Israel was often used because it was an effective way to intimidate or eliminate a potential rival. (The recent killing of a widow and her supposed lover seemed awfully fishy. Her murder seemed more like an "honor" killing. Once they've decided to kill someone they can make up the reason after the fact too.)

Posted by: soccerdad | Jun 30, 2006 4:37:02 PM

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In