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Gazans shocked at how many neighbors, coworkers, officials are 'spying' for Israel

An intelligence source says that the number of Gazans arrested by Hamas for collaborating with Israel are in the 'high hundreds.'

By Correspondent / November 19, 2010

Palestinians attend Eid al-Adha prayers in Palestine soccer stadium in Gaza City on November 16.

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Gaza City, Gaza

To citizens of Gaza, the Hamas government’s campaign to uncover and uproot the network of collaborators with Israel has been shockingly effective.

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It began with a warning: the execution of two convicted collaborators in May. Then Hamas government officials, who were convinced that a wide network of spies was undermining their government, made an unprecedented offer: a two-month amnesty campaign. Collaborators could turn themselves in and be forgiven, their identities kept secret.

When the offer expired this summer, the arrests began. Armed with the information they’d gleaned from those who’d given themselves up, security forces arrested hundreds more.

Gazans were astounded not only by the number or arrests, but by who was arrested. Prominent figures in society, including many doctors, were reportedly among those caught in the sweep. As the hunt for spies continues, Gazans say the revelation of the network’s reach is eroding trust between neighbors, coworkers – even family members. It’s tearing at the fabric of a close-knit society, where families, friends and neighbors often depend on each other.

“It has a really bad impact on society,” says Alaa Fouad, an anesthesiologist at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “People start to be afraid of each other. We don't talk openly with each other, and we suspect each other.”

Intelligence source: Hundreds arrested in crackdown

The Interior Ministry will not say how many people have been arrested in the campaign. But a source in the intelligence service says the number was in the high hundreds. Ihab Al Ghusain, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the “repentance campaign,” as it is called in Gaza, was highly effective. Just how effective will become clearer when the trials begin, likely starting next year.

“What we can say is that the national campaign for fighting collaboration was successful, because it is a new way of dealing with this,” says Mr. Ghusain.

Ghusain says the government has also worked to address the reasons these individuals became collaborators. Many of those who turned themselves in – Ghusain won’t say how many did – were low-level collaborators who had been blackmailed by Israeli intelligence, he says. Some did it for money; others needed permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment or study. The government says it will provide them with financial assistance, or other alternatives for medical treatment or study, like going to Egyptian hospitals instead of into Israel.

But the information they gave up allowed the authorities to apprehend many who were much more deeply involved. One man had been working for the Israelis for 15 years, says Ghusain – and was turned in by his wife.

The source in the intelligence service said in an interview that the operation yielded other fruits as well: the security apparatus discovered that Israel was placing tracking and recording devices on the cars allowed in to Gaza for sale since the relaxation of Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory. They also discovered such devices elsewhere, he says.

Gazans support crackdown, but surprised at its results

The campaign to root out spies for Israel has near unanimous support in Gaza. Nearly everyone agrees that collaboration is a serious problem and the spies should be found and brought to justice (the death penalty is widely supported for collaborators). And few are surprised that poor Gazans who need medical treatment outside the enclave would provide information in return for permission to travel.

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