IN its first report on abuses by Palestinians, Israel's leading human rights organization yesterday blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for ``gross violations of basic human rights.''
Also accusing Islamist militants of ``torture and killing without trial,'' a long-awaited study on the murders of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli authorities in the occupied territories found that ``the responsibility of Hamas and the PLO for killing and otherwise harming suspected collaborators is clear.''
The report, by the respected human rights group B'tselem, found that ``more than half of the Palestinians killed ... on suspicion of collaborating with Israel were in fact not used by the authorities as collaborators.''
The report, two years in the making, is of special significance now that the PLO is creating the police force that will ensure security under Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and West Bank city of Jericho.
Between 770 and 940 Palestinians have been killed as suspected collaborators by other Palestinians since the beginning of the intifadah, the uprising against the Israeli occupation that began in December 1987.
There are no reliable figures, B'tselem director Yizhar Beer says, because ``this issue is so sensitive to Palestinians that no father whose son is killed as a collaborator ... wants to admit that this was the reason.''
Collaboration is not a question that any Palestinians are comfortable addressing. ``Israel is solely responsible,'' insists Saeb Erakat, a PLO leader in the West Bank. ``The methods the Israelis apply to recruit collaborators are totally to blame.''
That sort of attitude, says Saleh Abdel Jawad, a Palestinian co-author of the report, helps explain why the killers of collaborators have acted unchecked for so long. ``Maybe one of the problems is to try to pretend - this attempt to forget,'' he says.
The report breaks new ground for B'tselem, which has been a thorn in the Israeli government's side since it was founded five years ago, by dealing for the first time with human rights violations by nongovernmental groups. The organization has long been attacked by critics for ignoring Palestinian rights abuses. The report does, however, lay blame at the Israeli government's door for the ``reprehensible'' methods it uses to recruit Palestinian informers and collaborators.
Because Palestinians in the occupied territories depend on the Israeli authorities for every detail of their daily lives, explains Yuval Ginbar, a B'tselem researcher, Israel ``has used this to condition basic services - rights in any other country - on collaboration,'' he charges.
Not only are Palestinian prisoners offered reduced sentences or freedom if they agree to collaborate, but ordinary residents applying for permission to travel abroad, or to work in Israel, or to bring relatives from abroad, are offered such ``privileges'' if they collaborate. But the main responsibility for the murders of alleged collaborators rests with the PLO and Hamas, which either encouraged or did nothing to stop the killings, the report finds.
Although the PLO leadership in Tunis issued periodic appeals to its followers in the occupied territories to be more circumspect in dealing with suspected collaborators, it never suspended its funding for groups that continued the killings. One especially notorious executioner of collaborator suspects, Yasser Abu Smahadanah, thought to have killed at least 25 people personally, was given a job in the PLO bureaucracy in Tunis when he escaped from Gaza last year.
The report finds that when Palestinian kangaroo courts examined allegations of collaboration, ``in all such cases no investigation meeting even minimal judicial standards was conducted,'' and the accused had no opportunity to defend himself. Often the victims were tortured or killed with great brutality, the report says.
``Most of those killed as collaborators were not employed as such by the authorities,'' according to Mr. Ginbar. But many were considered guilty of collaboration by their killers because their social deviance - drug or alchohol abuse, marital infidelity or homosexuality - was thought to make them easy targets for Israeli blackmail.
The report paints a picture of considerable confusion among Palestinian groups over what constitutes grounds for a death sentence. ``The PLO until now does not have even a five-page strategy paper toward this question,'' complains Dr. Abdel Jawad. ``Maybe it is time now to try to deal with this rationally.''
But with autonomy approaching, and with it, Palestinian responsibility for Palestinians' security, the question will soon take on added complexity.
``There are about 5,000 known [Palestinian] collaborators, most of them armed,'' Mr. Beer says. ``This is a problem of 30,000 to 50,000 people (with their families), and Israel has to solve it.''