The tragedy of Palestinian collaborators

Since the foundation of the State of Israel, Israeli security agents have recruited tens of thousands of Palestinians to a network of informants and collaborators that was established in Israel, and after 1967 also in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, using false promises, blackmail, coercion, violence and exploitation of personal distress.

On the surface, collaborators (Hebrew: MASHTAP, Arabic: Ameel) lead normal lives in their communities, but in parallel they lead a dangerous clandestine existence in which they act as informants or carry out missions in collaboration with the Israeli mechanisms of occupation. They are asked to provide information on neighbours and relatives, to infiltrate and report on activities of specific groups, or to participate in other activities as asked by Israeli security forces.

In return for these activities, many collaborators receive money or other benefits. However, since the early 1990s, when strict limitations were imposed on the movement of Palestinians through closures and permits systems, Palestinians became far more vulnerable and many felt forced to collaborate in return for travel permits for work, study and even lifesaving medical care.

The use of collaborators has become a central instrument in the service of the Israeli mechanisms of occupation. It serves to break the cohesion of Palestinian society that is so necessary for their struggle for liberation and for the building of a state. It is an instrument that engenders mistrust and sows fear and suspicion, even among neighbours and close friends. The accusation of collaboration is often also used as an instrument of revenge in the hands of Palestinians, who may spread rumours to turn their rivals or enemies into persecuted fugitives.

When the first Palestinian intifada broke out in 1987, rumours were spread throughout the OPT about Palestinian collaborators – partly by the Israeli authorities – leading to mass panic and widespread violence; hundreds of suspects were killed.

Those choosing to collaborate know that other Palestinians may be killed or imprisoned by Israeli forces as a result of their actions. They know the deeper political implications of their act, which undermines the ability of Palestinians to engage freely in political debate and activity. They also know that, if discovered, their lives may be forfeit.

Palestinian society responds to collaboration by harassing and threatening both informants and their families. Collaborators may face danger of torture or death, either from the community or from the Palestinian security authorities. Some flee for their lives to the other side of the pre-1967 borders, to Israel.

In Israel, collaborators expect to receive fair treatment and acceptance into Israeli society. In their own eyes, they have assisted Israel and therefore see themselves as entitled to a place in its society.

Instead, they are treated with contempt both by Israeli society, which sees them as still belonging to the Palestinian enemy side, and by the Israeli establishment, which does its best to avoid recognizing responsibility for them, denies them residency status and basic social rights, and makes their lives miserable with endless bureaucracy and committees.

Often, security agencies deny any relation to the collaborators and the burden of proof falls on them to demonstrate that they had indeed collaborated with Israel, in order to gain the most minimal protection and the right to reside in Israel.

Many collaborators feel terrible guilt, especially toward their families, and they wish they could return, but they know that this is impossible, and that they will never return home or meet their families, spouses and children again. Their families will continue to be excluded, punished and harassed for their actions.

Although a small number are granted protection in Israel, hundreds of collaborators remain with no permission to live legally in Israel, with no way of leaving the country and no way home. Many are homeless and live in abject poverty, constantly in hiding from the authorities.

The deep despair and poverty that are the result of this situation drive former collaborators to increased use of drugs and alcohol, to depression, to severe emotional and psychiatric disorders and to the enactment of extreme acts of despair like the one staged by Nadim Injaz (see box below).

International humanitarian law prohibits the use of civilian populations of a party to a conflict against their state. This rule has been stipulated in the Constitution of the International Criminal Court and its breach is considered a war crime. Article 31 of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes a sweeping prohibition against obtaining information from protected persons by coercion or force. The state of Israel flouts these obligations, yet the use of collaborators is seldom criticised and is seen both by the Israeli public and by governments worldwide as a legitimate tool.

Local charities providing assistance to Israelis or Palestinians fail to address the needs of this specific group of people, because Israelis see them as enemies while Palestinians regard them as traitors. Collaborators who are in desperate need can find basic medical assistance in Physicians for Human Rights-Israel’s Open Clinic, and Israeli human rights organisations have represented some of them in court. But the core issues remain too controversial to be addressed.

Citizens around the world who seek peace and an end to the conflict must work to stop the commonplace use of collaborators by Israel – a distorted and cruel practice. The agents of the shabac, Israel’s secret police, and those in the Israeli army who make use of collaborators must be brought to justice.
Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Ran Cohen is Director of the Department for Migrants, Refugees and Undocumented People at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

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