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Israel’s elite undercover units are increasing their activities against the Palestinians

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In recent weeks and months, Israel’s elite undercover Special Forces units, known as the Musta’ribeen (Mista’arvim), have increased their activities against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The units are responsible for the arrest and assassination of Palestinian resistance members wanted by the Israeli occupation authorities.

For example, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) revealed that the murder of Omar Abu Laila, who carried out an operation in Salfit, in Ramallah in late March, was a result of a Special Forces unit infiltrating the city. The soldiers posed as vegetable vendors before making the hit. In December, the Musta’ribeen killed resistance member Asem Barghouti in the same manner. In March, Special Forces disguised as journalists killed the former head of the Birzeit University Student Council Omer Al-Kiswani, within the university campus in Ramallah. Last November, Hamas uncovered a unit of Israeli Special Forces in the southern Gaza Strip and killed its commander in a bloody clash.

How do these elite troops disguise themselves, and why are the Palestinians unable to identify them? How many assassinations are they responsible for, and how can resistance fighters evade them?

Ever since the First Intifada (1987 to 1993), and including Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000 to 2005) and the subsequent popular uprisings until Al-Quds Intifada in 2015, the media has been showing pictures of apparently armed civilians arresting Palestinian protestors and handing them over to the Israeli army. These “civilians” are the Musta’ribeen.

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The uprisings created the opportunities for the revival of these units, which are a weapon of the IDF used to counter the increase in armed resistance operations resulting in losses among Israeli soldiers. The Musta’ribeen have played a major role in the pursuit and liquidation of Palestinian resistance fighters.

The term Mista’arvim is derived from the Arabic word Musta’rib, meaning a non-Arab wanting to integrate with the Arabs; Musta’ribeen is the plural. Members of these units are trained to know the Palestinian area in which they operate, the dialects spoken there and the names of well-known families. This helps them when they infiltrate a Palestinian town, either to gather intelligence, to arrest wanted persons or, sometimes, to........

© Middle East Monitor