How Israel builds its fifth column
Palestinian collaborators face mob justice, and fuel a culture of suspicion
(Page 2 of 2)
Others were convinced by Kuperburg they could better help their people by working for Israel because of access to credentials that allowed freedom of movement through the occupied territories.Skip to next paragraph
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"[Successful recruitment] is about confidence building," Kuperburg says. "The collaborator must understand why they are working with us. We are professional and they collaborate because we tell them the truth. If I want an 18-year-old to collaborate, he must believe we have common understanding. I will tell him that I also want to prevent bloodshed. With time, he will see that I am honest."
If all fails, there is always money: "I make sure they know we are generous," he says.
Kuperburg, a secular Jew who speaks fluent Arabic and was trained to impersonate a Palestinian using the undercover name "Musa," often targeted junior members of militant organizations. "Someone who is a good student, a moderate, we will leave him alone," he says. "But if he is radical, we can tell him he is living in a dream. Sometimes even if he does not become a collaborator the conversation can prevent a future attack."
The process can take as little as an hour, or many months of work. Kuperburg who says he counts Palestinians among his friends and endorses a two-state solution to the conflict teaches the new recruit how to avoid detection.
Tell no one, he cautions, not even your mother, and spend the money you receive frugally to avoid suspicion. Kuperburg also promises protection inside Israel if the collaborator is discovered.
Kuperburg says Shin Bet runs entire neighborhoods of former collaborators who have been assigned new identities. "We also send some overseas," he adds. But this protection is typically reserved for high-ranking informers. Disgruntled collaborators who worked on the lower rung of the system claim Israel should do more to protect them. Some are preparing a legal case against the Jewish state.
The Palestinian Authority has been strongly criticized for the way it deals with the issue. Human rights groups are concerned that those labeled collaborators are denied fair trials. Military courts are convened quickly, and justice dispensed just as fast.
"There are many questions concerning the degree to which the State Security Courts respect the right to a fair trial, and it is doubtful that justice will truly prevail," the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza (PHRMG) says in its latest report on the subject, published in February. "Suspected collaborators should be held accountable for their actions," says Raji Sourani, director of the PHRMG. "But they should receive fair trials, not state security trials. I am against any form of military court."
But the problem is not limited to sham trials. During the first intifada, which began in 1987, about 1,000 Palestinians died in fighting with Israeli soldiers and settlers. Research by PHRMG suggests a similar number were killed by their own people under suspicion of collaboration but just 45 percent of those killed were rightfully accused.
Many suspected collaborators are simply gunned down in the street by vigilante groups. The PA turns a blind eye. The label is sometimes used as an excuse for extra-judicial killing designed to settle old scores.
The tactics contravene agreements signed by the PA. Oslo II, for example, states, "Palestinians who have maintained contact with the Israeli authorities will not be subjected to acts of harassment, violence, retribution, or prosecution."
Yet it goes on. Last month, three men were shot in the center of Ramallah by masked attackers. The families of those killed this way are afraid to speak out. "The families of suspected or alleged collaborators suffer from social ostracism sometimes with serious economic consequences," says the PHRMG report. "Neighbors and relatives no longer come to visit. Children are isolated at school and their trauma affects their school performance. Young men and women cannot marry since no family wants to be related to a collaborator's family."
Hani, now in jail, may have escaped alive from his life as a collaborator, but he says his deeds have ruined his future. "I can't look at my wife in the eye," he says. "If I ever get out of jail I will leave immediately without seeing anyone. My life here has come to an end."