Palestinian informers given draconian sentences
Young woman who claims she started working for Israeli intelligence to escape prostitution sentenced to lifer term of hard labor by West Bank court. Palestinian legislator and human rights advocate says collaboration is 'a betrayal of everything that people hold sacred'
A 22-year-old Palestinian woman, who says she became an informer for Israel to earn money that would get her out of prostitution, is going to prison for life. Others convicted of collaboration with Israel by West Bank courts sit on death row.
Such draconian sentences reflect the loathing Palestinian society has for collaborators, even small-time informants or those blackmailed by Israeli intelligence agents into cooperating.
Yet the harsh treatment of collaborators also highlights the complex realities of life in the West Bank, where a US-backed Palestinian government works increasingly closely with Israeli security forces against a common enemy, the Islamic militant Hamas. Israel has overall security control in the West Bank.
Such security coordination is unpopular among Palestinians, who unsuccessfully tried to shake off Israeli military rule in two uprisings in the past two decades.
Some say collaborators have been made into scapegoats to deflect attention from the coordination between Israeli and Palestinian forces, which is aimed at preventing a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.
Palestinian officials say the information they share with Israel helps keep residents safe, while individuals selling information are betraying their country.
"There's no authority that should allow its people to collaborate," Said Saleh Abdul Jawad, a Palestinian political scientist.
Low-level informationIn the most recent case Monday, a military tribunal in a security compound in the West Bank town of Jenin sentenced 22-year-old Taghreed - her last name was not released - to a life term of hard labor.
The dark-skinned, portly woman, wearing a lace headscarf and blue jeans, remained calm while the sentence was announced. She refused to speak to reporters and none of her family attended the trial, indicating they had washed their hands of her.
The scene played out in a hastily assembled courtroom of plastic chairs, benches and a Palestinian flag.
Earlier, Taghreed had told the court that she turned informer after she left her husband, who had forced her to work as a prostitute and thus turned her into an outcast.
The information the woman sold was low-level - nothing that led to arrests by the Israelis, according to military prosecutor Raed Dalbah.
Israel has long been running networks of informers in areas under its control, mainly seeking information about militant groups and the whereabouts of fugitives. In recent years, Israel often used such information to launch missile strikes from helicopters against wanted gunmen.
Since 1994, when a Palestinian self-rule government was established under interim peace deals with Israel, at least 35 suspected informers were sentenced to death, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Two defendants were executed by firing squad in Gaza several years ago.
Vulnerable people become informantsSeventeen alleged informers, both those on death row and those still awaiting trial, were killed in vigilante-style shootings by Palestinians during Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza in January.
It is mostly the vulnerable, like Taghreed, who ultimately become Israeli snoops, often providing information to Israeli intelligence in exchange for money and to access key services like medical care and permits to work in Israel, said Ran Yaron of Physicians for Human Rights, which studies the issue.
They are nonetheless widely despised for helping Israel.
"If I was the judge, I would shoot her on the spot," Said a guard outside the courtroom, spitting on the ground to emphasize his disgust at Taghreed.
In the past two years alone, West Bank tribunals have convicted seven people of collaboration, including Taghreed. She was the only one not sentenced to death, though the executions were not carried out.
During the two Palestinian uprisings, vigilante gunmen often killed suspected collaborators, at times with crowds looking on. After Israel withdrew from parts of the West Bank in the 1990s, it relocated hundreds of collaborators to Israel to protect them from retribution.
Palestinian human rights activists say they oppose the death penalty on principle, but most have not rushed to the defense of collaborators.
"We do not think there should be a death sentence," Said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator and human rights advocate. "The punishment has to fit the crime. The crime, in the popular imagination, is the most unconscionable crime. It is a betrayal of everything that people hold