The Times of Israel
In the fall of 1986, Riki Eyal and her soon-to-be husband were enjoying a Shiduch on the Tel Aviv beach when the latter posed an odd question.
“If you knew someone was a Shin Bet informant, would you marry him?” asked Amit (not his real name). He was referring specifically to assets recruited by the security service’s so-called Jewish Division to gather intelligence on Israeli ultra-nationalists.
“Of course I would not,” Eyal responded honestly, wondering if her Chosson was testing her loyalty to the cause of far-right activists, many of whom were being targeted by the Shin Bet in their settlement of Kiryat Arba.
The conversation quickly changed topics. It would be many years before she ever thought about the question again.
“Unfortunately, my answer had been worthless,” Eyal, 52, reflected in a recent interview with The Times of Israel from her home in the southern town of Arad. “By then, the Shin Bet had already recruited him, and he was working as their informant.”
Four years later Amit, whose real name is barred from publication, revealed his side job as a Shin Bet asset to his wife, and promised to quit the agency. In reality, though, he did not leave and continued receiving secret payments for his work from the Shin Bet — funds he never shared with his family.
In 2001, Eyal separated from Amit, and they later divorced. But during their roughly 15 years together, she endured regular abuse in various forms and raised seven children in utter poverty, she said.
Her story is an astounding saga of suffering and of subterfuge, the latter being something the Shin Bet would doubtless justify as essential to the larger interests of the state in its tackling of Jewish terror. But for Eyal, that “greater good” translated to the blighting of her life and the life of her family.
Did the intelligence agency specifically order informants to marry locals in communities such as Kiryat Arba in order to gather intelligence? The Shin Bet says it did not. But was the security service aware of the destruction of families caused by the deceit of agents like Amit? Eyal asserts that the answer is unequivocally yes.
Eyal first shared her story in 2004, but it is only now beginning to gain prominence following a documentary by the Kan public broadcaster screened last month. After interviewing Eyal, The Times of Israel reached out to Amit in an effort to hear his side. While he did not deny having worked as an informant, he hung up the phone before additional questions could be asked.
Eyal, who now drives a taxi as she tries to repay the debts left by Amit, had little good to say about the “misery” that was her marriage, but still made very clear that her blame extends well beyond her ex-husband — to the very top of the security service that had recruited him during his military service.
“I’m not interested in the guard at the gate. I want the commanding officer,” she said firmly. “My ex-husband was just a pawn in all this. They directed the whole thing and were fully aware of our situation at home.”
According to Eyal, the agency targeted Kiryat Arba, a hardcore ideological settlement adjacent to Hebron, and at the very least knew that its informants were marrying residents without revealing to their spouses that they were working for the Shin Bet. When she tried to divorce Amit after establishing the truth about his covert work, the Shin Bet put the couple through “phony” marriage counseling where she was pressured to keep the relationship going.
In 2004, she sued the Shin Bet for damages, eventually managing to secure a small sum — “peanuts in relation to what my children and I went through. They had a well-oiled machine of lawyers and we were forced to settle.”
Roughly a decade has passed since the agreement was reached, and Eyal is still speaking out against the Shin Bet, an organization widely regarded by Israelis as one of the security pillars of the state. “They ruined my life. The emotional and financial damages follow me to this day,” she said. “What I won’t let them do, however, is silence me.”
To Eyal, there is no question that the Shin Bet benefited immensely from Amit’s complete integration into the Kiryat Arba settlement, where she had moved just months before meeting him.
“I lived a lie,” Eyal added. “I wasn’t just married to a man I didn’t know, but he brought with him — into my home — an organization that exploited me in the most cynical of ways.”
What’s more, Eyal claims her story is far from unique and that there are “dozens” of other women who, unknown to them, were and are married to men who work to gather intelligence on neighbors, friends, even family.
The security service, along with former agents who spoke in its defense, said in response to Eyal’s complaints that she had married Amit, not the Shin Bet, and that she is misdirecting her blame for what she went through. Moreover, they argued, Eyal’s case was an exception, a very different story from that experienced by most families in which a spouse is employed by the intelligence agency.
The agency invested considerable resources combating Jewish terror in Kiryat Arba, which served as somewhat of a hub for the Jewish Underground during the early 1980s. The group was exposed in 1986 after the Shin Bet intercepted an attempt by the group’s members to firebomb five Arab buses in East Jerusalem. Fifteen members of the group, which numbered 29 in all, were convicted and served prison terms. One of the leaders of the fundamentalist group was Moshe Livni, a resident of Kiryat Arba. In 1984, security forces raided the town and found a cache of military weapons and explosives that the Jewish Underground had intended to use to blow up the Dome of the Rock. A decade later, Baruch Goldstein, a physician and Kiryat Arba resident, would massacre 29 Palestinians at prayer in nearby Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs.
For the full story, go to timesofisrael.com.