The Issue of Collaborators in Palestine
& Recruitment of Collaborators
Following the well-publicized execution of two alleged Palestinian collaborators, at the hands of a PA firing squad, in the beginning of January, there has been an increased prominence of discourse on the role collaborators play in the Israeli strategy of eliminating Palestinian activists. These executions were followed by the televised trial of four other suspected collaborators (two of whom were sentenced to death), and an announced PA campaign to struggle against the "enemy within".
As soon as these events began the international community and Israeli government harshly criticized them. While I will make no attempt to defend or excuse the Palestinian Authority's behavior in this matter, there is, beside the need to assess their role in the treatment and punishment of alleged collaborators, a real need to delve deep into the issue of collaboration to further understand the phenomena independent of political motivations.
The killing of suspected Palestinian collaborators by the national movement was used by Israel and the Zionist movement as a means of de-legitimizing the national struggle as early as 1936. At the time, the Zionist movement promoted a myth that the victims of internal elimination amongst Palestinians totaled more than the amount of Palestinians killed by the British Mandate forces themselves during the 1936-39 Revolt. During the first Intifada, the subject of killing of collaborators spearheaded Israeli efforts to discredit the popular nature of the Intifada. Today, the same tactic is seen again.
This article aims to clarify important aspects of the phenomena of collaboration often overlooked in normative discourse.
Collaboration is a widespread phenomenon that characterizes all colonial situations. All national liberation movements have had to contend with the issue. Revolutionary and national liberation literature tackles the subject whether by Mao Tse Tung (China) or Che Guevara (Cuba) and from the Algerian revolution to France under Vichy rule. The Zionist movement itself had to deal with the issue, often doing so in a particularly harsh manner. It is a complicated phenomenon that has a greater significance than a mere issue of 'security', which is often mistakenly perceived, especially in the case of Palestinian society. In fact, the security element composes only one dimension of what is a larger social phenomenon.
The collaborator betrays his own people either because he is in a position of weakness and suffering, (i.e., under torture or in need of health care during detention, etc.) and/or perceives the occupying power to be invincible, and he and his people to be hopelessly weak. This is why if we look today, it is difficult to find Israelis who collaborate with Palestinians. However there are many cases of Jews who collaborated with the Nazis, because at the time, the Jews were also in a position of similar weakness.
The Palestinian collaborator is an expression of Israel's larger 'defense' policies. Israel is one of those preeminent countries, whose interest in acquiring information has historically acted as a main part of its military power and as a means of control. Collaborators are a part of this process of information gathering alongside the satellites, sensitive listening equipment, wire tapping, unmanned drones, not to mention access to data from schools, banks and other bureaucratic paper trails. The Palestinian collaborator in the Israeli strategy also serves the purpose of creating mistrust, spreading confusion and undermining collective self-confidence within Palestinian society.
Against the backdrop of the 33-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Oslo Accords failed to do anything to alleviate the problem of collaboration. This was partly because Israel used Oslo as a way to continue the occupation through other means, and as such, the role of the collaborator remained intact and essential to the occupier.
Having established this brief background to the phenomena of collaboration, it is now necessary to divide collaboration into the various 'types' that have been historically present in Palestinian society. The first and perhaps most well known kind of collaborator is the land dealer (simsar al-aardi). This person intermediates between Israelis (either settlers or the Jewish National Fund) and the general Palestinian population in order to acquire Palestinian lands. This is necessary because, in general, Palestinians do not want to sell their lands. Here, the simsar's role as the Palestinian land broker is to acquire the land from the Palestinian landowner and to then transfer it to the Israelis. This kind of collaborator has been present since the beginning of the last century. The Palestinian national movement took a stance in opposition to this form of collaboration in 1935 when meetings were held to address the issue and a religious decree (fatwa) was issued. The fatwa encouraged the killing of collaborators and made it forbidden for them to receive a religious burial. These collaborators played an important role in the pre-1948 period as well as, in certain cases, after the 1967 occupation.
The second kind of collaborator is the intermediary (al-wasit). This collaborator acts as an intermediary between the Israeli occupation and the population. After the 1967 Occupation, Israel created a kind of occupation administration whereby any services rendered by the occupation to the population involved going through the intelligence services and a "security check". Sometimes the individuals will prefer to go through well-known intermediary collaborators to have their "paper work" done, rather than dealing with the occupation administration by themselves. The wasit is usually well known to the population since his role is to intermediate between the population and the occupier's administration and is therefore not considered to be an immediately 'dangerous' kind of collaborator. In contrast however, the simsar is considered to be highly 'dangerous', because the nature of his work is deceptive and relates to the most fundamental aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (land). The role of both these kinds of collaborator diminished in importance after the signing of the Oslo Accords and with the arrival of the Palestinian Authority in certain parts of the West Bank and Gaza.
A third kind of collaborator is the armed collaborator (al-'ameel al-musallah). These are collaborators who became well-known land brokers or intermediaries, and as such were completely marginalized and isolated form Palestinian society. The Israelis used them to accompany their Special Forces to the houses of certain activists, and they were even armed by the Special Forces in order to participate in such raids. A famous example of such a collaborator is Ahmed Nattur from Ya'bed village in the Jenin district. Nattur used to provide information and accompany Israeli Special Forces on raids throughout the Jenin area because he was familiar with the villages and new where certain activists' houses were. He eventually became the head of the West Bank collaborator village known as Fahmeh that the Israelis set up on an old Jordanian military base after the outbreak of the first Intifada. Together with its counterpart of Dihiniyeh village in the Gaza Strip, the camp was established because Israel needed a place where it could collect and protect certain collaborators after the Intifada began. Nattur eventually left the West Bank together with hundreds of other collaborators and he is now living inside Israel.
The fourth kind of collaborator is the informant (jasous). The jasous provides information upon the activities and movements of certain activists as well as general information about political activity in a given area. For example, the jasous will provide a list of people who may have participated in demonstrations and details on "who hangs out with whom". It is important however to emphasize that the information the jasous provides comes from outside the inner circle of political activity. The jasous, therefore, is to be distinguished from the infiltrator who shall be discussed below and who provides information from within Palestinian national organizations.
Before continuing it should be emphasized that it is not uncommon that these four kinds of collaborators - the intermediary, land brokers, armed collaborators and informers - play more than one role, i.e., an intermediary will also work as an informer, or an armed collaborator also tries to do land deals or the vice versa.
In addition to these types of collaborator are three other types of collaborator, which Palestinian society tends not to talk about. The first is the economic collaborator, whose job is to push Israeli products onto the Palestinian market and to mobilize propaganda against Palestinian national products. These also fulfill a role by pushing Israeli products into the Arab world. In the latter case, the collaborator promotes the product as though it were a Palestinian or non-Israeli product. Such collaborators usually emerge from well-off social strata and are often agents of Israeli companies. Today examples of such kind of collaboration can be found in the Palestinian Territories, well after Oslo.
A second, less well talked-about, collaborator is the political collaborator. These are people who also come from well-off social strata, and are sometimes involved in the municipal affairs of Palestinian cities. Sometimes they have been known to show a nationalistic 'face', but generally they apply long-term Israeli political policies. Sometimes the role of these collaborators coincides with economic collaboration. Historically, political collaborators have worked against nationalistic mayors in an effort to discredit them or to divide or confuse the support of popular nationalist leaders. In general, however, the economic and political collaborator is not recruited and their role is not that of giving information to the intelligence services, but rather to serve Israeli economic and political interests. Nonetheless, they do encourage and facilitate the process of recruitment of smaller-time collaborators due to the psychological effect of their perceived material 'success'.
Political and economic collaborators have historically benefited at the expense of internal rifts within the national movement. During the 1970s and 1980s, leftist leaders in the Occupied Territories such as Bassam Al-Shaka', Ibrahim Daqak, Abdel Jawwad Saleh, and Haidar Abdel Shafi were seen as obstacles to the ongoing process of preparing the ground for what eventually would take place later. Thus, a de facto convergence of interests emerged between Israel and the mainstream PLO leadership. This situation led to the promotion and strengthening of Palestinian individuals and leaders who operated within the Israeli sphere of economic and political interests, at the expense and exclusion of those who leaned in other directions.
The last category
of collaborator is the infiltrator and can be defined as someone who succeeds
in infiltrating Palestinian national organizations. Many times such people
are originally active members of political parties, and come to be an
infiltrator through the use of torture during prison sentences, combined
with the fact that they are often young and inexperienced. In most cases,
the individual is pressured through various means by Israel, in an effort
to induce them to collaborate. For example, it is not uncommon for the
potential collaborator to be threatened with a life sentence whether it
be possible or not. As is usually the case, these people are released
from prison and are not suspected of being collaborators because of the
sacrifices and time they have spent in prison. They then re-enter the
national movement and begin to provide information from the inside about
certain activities. The infiltrator is therefore the most 'dangerous'
kind of collaborator because he can give accurate information from the
inside, which can endanger the lives of others and might sabotage an entire
operation, or organization.
Beyond all this - and something which is generally completely ignored by Palestinians - is the sophisticated technology that Israel uses to gather information. Israel has developed an advanced complex of intelligence gathering that brings together hundreds of individual pieces of information, so that when combined they give a "picture to the puzzle". So when, for example, the Palestinian Authority sentences two people to death for providing information on the assassinated Fateh activist Hussein Abayyat in Bethlehem, one can be sure that these two people were only a small part of a much larger process which probably included unmanned drones, high-tech binoculars, and listening equipment amongst other devices.