Police spy infiltrated Palestine activists

A photo of ISM and other activists delaying Israeli settlement construction in Bil’in, near Ramallah, in November 2005. A police spy had infiltrated the ISM’s London support group at that time.

Asa Winstanley

For four years, UK police infiltrated the London chapter of the International Solidarity Movement, an activist group focused on Palestine.

Using the cover name Rob Harrison, one ISM activist was actually a member of the Special Demonstration Squad, information released by a UK government inquiry this week shows.

ISM volunteers, mostly from European and North American countries, join non-violent solidarity activities in Palestine, such as protests, accompaniment and olive picking.

ISM volunteers Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall were both killed after being fatally wounded by Israeli occupation forces in 2003.

ISM London ran sessions around the UK training volunteers on what to expect in Palestine and how to join the group there.

“Harrison” was an ISM London volunteer from 2004 to 2007, and was deeply involved in fundraising activities.

It is thought he never visited Palestine.

Emails from Harrison, obtained by The Electronic Intifada, show that he was a leading organizer of a September 2005 fundraiser for ISM London. He was also a DJ, and played a set at the event, which took place at the rampART social centre, a squatted venue in East London.

It was one of several such events he volunteered his services for, under the DJ name “Boogie Knight.”


ISM activists who knew “Harrison” have told The Electronic Intifada of their shock and dismay.

Kieron Gill, now a local Labour councillor in London, remembered Rob as a “nervous loser” who claimed not to feel educated enough to speak out on Palestine.

“I’m disgusted, amazed, incredulous,” said Gill upon learning that the man he’d thought was a friend was in fact a police spy.

Most ISM London activists interviewed by The Electronic Intifada declined to be quoted using their real names.

“Kerry” said she had been suspicious: “I knew it!” During her time in ISM London, “Harrison” would often visit her housing co-op, but would never reciprocate. “It’s pathetic, spying on a bunch of peace activists,” she said upon learning the news.

Another ISM London activist, “Steve” said, “I would have thought we’d be a waste of time.” He said, “We weren’t a threat to anyone in my opinion.”

Another activist who wants to remain anonymous, “Miriam,” suggested the information “Harrison” collected may have been passed onto Israeli authorities.

“No wonder we all got refused” entry to the country, she said.

Israeli coordination?

She recalled a journey to Palestine in 2005 she took part in with three other ISM volunteers.

She was let in, but the others were not.

“Miriam” said that Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky had told her that the Israeli authorities had “international security” records on “Roy,” one of the three.

At the time, she took this as a reference to South Africa, since “Roy” had a history of anti-apartheid activism there.

“Miriam” told The Electronic Intifada that this raises the question of whether or not “Rob’s” superiors were passing the information he gathered on to the Israelis.

“Roy” told The Electronic Intifada that he was convinced the information “Harrison” gathered had played a part in his denial of entry. “I’m sure they were passing information to the Israelis,” he said of the British police.

Although not an officially banned group, ISM activists were frequently denied entry or deported from Palestine by Israeli occupation authorities.

“Harrison” also offered to drive this writer to the airport on the way out to a 2006 trip to Palestine. The offer was declined.

Special Branch

The revelation was made by the Undercover Policing Inquiry, who released the cover name on Tuesday.

The inquiry was established in 2015 by the British government, after a series of revelations in the press since 2010 about abuses by undercover police officers.

To date, it has been revealed that more than 100 British undercover police spied on more than 1,000 political groups between 1968 and 2011.

The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) that “Harrison” was from was a unit of Special Branch – the part of the Metropolitan Police supposedly dedicated to tackling political violence.

But in reality most of the groups targeted were non-violent and left-wing groups like London Greenpeace, trade unions and the justice campaign for Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager murdered in 1993 by white racists.

Some undercover officers had long term relationships with female activists they spied on, even while maintaining their everyday lives and relationships as police officers.

Leading SDS spy Bob Lambert even fathered a child with a woman known publicly as “Jacqui,” before he abandoned them both. The police settled out of court with Jacqui in 2014 for more than $500,000.

Previous disclosures from the inquiry released in October, using “Rob Harrison’s” cipher N18, suggest that he was one of a group of 15 arrested while protesting against the Defense Security Equipment International (DSEi) arms fair in East London in 2007.

As reported by The Canary, “The charges were then quietly dropped before the defendants received any disclosure.”

The group had been charged with aggravated trespass after attempting to invade the site.

Disclosure: The writer was an activist with ISM London during the period of “Rob Harrison’s” deployment in 2004-2007 and knew him.

Correction: Tom Hurndall was fatally shot in the head by an Israeli sniper in 2003, not 2004 as this article originally stated. He died of this wound in January 2004.


Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).