Monday, November 30, 2020

Anyone is a potential collaborator for Israel - ‘You never know whom to trust‘

July 20, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Occupation] [the Wall] [Israeli army]

Silhouette of an Israeli soldier overlooking a protest  | CC Jill Granberg 



Israeli forces wanted to make Hasan*, 26, their collaborator.


Hasan opened an Internet café in a small village in the north of the West Bank in 2008. At the time few of the locals had Wi-Fi connection at home, and his café became a popular place for people to chat online and for children to do their homework.


In 2010, villagers began protesting the Israeli-constructed separation wall that cuts through a large part of their agricultural fields. Israeli soldiers often responded with force, arresting demonstrators and firing rubber bullets in the town center, right next to Hasan’s café.


One night, soldiers were patrolling the village again. Local boys responded by throwing stones. A sound bomb was thrown into Hasan’s café, and amidst the confusion the Israelis arrested him and four other men. Blindfolded and handcuffed, they were driven to olive groves near another village. 


“You took me behind my computer. I have nothing to do with stone-throwing,” Hasan tried to protest, to no avail. 


Still unsure of where they had been taken, the men heard the soldiers playing with their guns, pretending to prepare to kill the five captives. After a while, the Israelis took photos of the villagers and let them go. It was now the middle of the night, and the men had to find their way back home by foot.


Soon after the incident, soldiers started coming to Hasan’s café regularly, seven to eight persons at a time. They tried to chat with the children, asking them questions on topics ranging from football to how they learnt to throw stones. 


One day Hasan had enough and asked one of the soldiers what they were looking for.


“I want to make a simple deal with you. The next time you see someone throwing stones, you call me and tell who that person is,” the soldier responded.


 “How do you expect me to do that? It’s a small village. That person would likely be my cousin or my brother,” Hasan exclaimed.


“Fine. If you don’t want to do that, then expect my visit every day,” the soldier said.


The soldiers visits persisted and customers began to avoid the café. In 2011, Hasan sold his computers and closed down the business. Though his passion was information technology, the young man was now forced to commit his life to his family’s olive and orange groves on the other side of the wall.


Getting to the fields was difficult. As Hasan had become a “security problem” for the Israeli authorities, his travel permit was marked with stars, which meant sometimes he could cross the checkpoints and other times he would have to wait for hours. Occasionally he was denied entry completely.


Collaborator once, collaborator forever


It is impossible to know how many in Hasan’s village have agreed to work for the Israelis. Attempts to recruit new collaborators are commonplace. Hasan says the soldiers usually target young people without a job or opportunities to study.


“They might offer them money or permits to Israel, saying they could go to swim and have girls there, to do whatever they want,” Hasan said.


Mourad Jadallah, a legal researcher from Prisoners Support and Human Rights Organization Addameer, says that permits to travel or to access better medical treatment are commonly used as incentives, in addition to money, sex, and drugs. Another way is to make other Palestinians suspect that someone already works for the Israelis.


“They might keep sending you an invitation to come and meet them. Or they can arrest a group of people and release one before the others, repeatedly,” Jadallah said. “Eventually, when everyone thinks you’re a collaborator, you might ask to become one.”


According to Hasan, the recruiters usually start with simple questions. For instance, they might ask how many students go to the local university. Step by step the requests become harder, and can even lead to a demand to kill someone.


“They give money only the first time. When you accept it once, it’s impossible to go back,” Hasan said.


“They threatened to rape my aunt”


Mental and physical pressure is often used to “turn” Palestinians into collaborators. The perfect place for this is prison, Jadallah says.


“When I was arrested as a child, the Israelis threatened to rape my aunt if I didn’t confess,” he said, adding that sexual violence and torture are common practices at the interrogation. According to Jadallah, children as young as 12 years old are sometimes recruited to work for the Israelis.


At prison, recruitment efforts can continue after interrogation. Hasan tells that one of his cousins, who served a seven and a half year sentence, was once put into a special cell in the prison. All the other prisoners seemed very nice, and the cousin felt that he could share his experiences with them. In reality, all the others were collaborators, ready to pass on what they heard. 


“This is called the 'asafir-system (“birds” in English),” Jadallah explained. “It is just a theater. The other prisoners welcome you with food and cigarettes, and tell you that you have to explain them everything about your background – just to make sure that you’re a good guy.”


“The reports they get this way cannot serve as an official document in the court, but this doesn’t matter for the Israelis: They already received the information they needed,” he added.


Revealed informants are marginalized – or even killed


Revealed collaborators become enemies of the society. Even children are marginalized, and people refuse to talk to them or let the suspects marry their daughters. No one offers to help.


“I remember how one of my friends saw his dad’s body lying in the dumpster on his way to school. He said he couldn’t forgive his dad for being a collaborator, but neither could he forgive the people that killed his father,” Jadallah said. “It’s a tragedy on both sides.”


These kinds of executions outside of the law are  not unheard of. Armed men shot to death a suspected collaborator in the middle of a street in Gaza a week ago. No militant group took responsibility of the killing, Ma’an News reported.


According to Al Jazeera, Israel has recruited approximately tens of thousands of collaborators since 1948. The state still relies on informants, but used them most actively in the 1970s and 1980s, before today’s surveillance technology.


Jadallah agrees that because of the security cooperation between Israel and Palestinian Authority, Israel has to rely on collaborators only to get back-up information in the West Bank. In Gaza, much more details are lacking, as the Israeli soldiers are not deployed on the ground.


A taboo that destroys the society


While providing information remains the collaborators’ main task, some Palestinians are also used for purchasing land in strategic areas of the occupied East Jerusalem on behalf of settler organizations. Others serve as contractors to sell mostly Israeli products in the West Bank.


Hasan says that although men and children are among the most targeted, anyone is a potential collaborator, including people trying to renew their travel permits.


“When the Israelis see that you really want that permit to access your land, they can start pressuring you,” Hasan said.


Although the system of collaborators is widespread in the Palestinian territories, people rarely want to talk about it. Palestine Monitor contacted several human rights organizations both in Palestine and Israel, but few had done research on the topic or had specialists in it.


Hasan says infiltration of collaborators in the society makes it hard to trust anyone.


“I don’t talk about politics or resistance, not even with my friends,” he said. “You never know who is good and who is bad.”


Jadallah believes that the recent movies dealing with collaboration, like Omar and Flower Seller, have made people more willing to talk about the topic, although many might find the films demoralizing.


“It bothers the people to know that not everyone is willing to fight against the enemy," Jadallah said. “The Israelis already control the Palestinians. The collaboration system is a tool to destroy the society, an attempt not to make us behave as a group that has rights.”


“I believe this is one the reasons why we can’t have a third intifada,” he added.


Under international law, it is illegal for the occupying power to force people to collaborate with it.



*For security reasons, Hasan (name modified) did not want his real identity to be revealed.

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