Parallels
11:44 am
Tue June 4, 2013

In Gaza, Hamas Targets Palestinian Informants In Crackdown

Originally published on Wed June 12, 2013 10:25 am

Life was already grim in the Gaza Strip when fighting raged between Israel and Hamas last November. Then Khulud Badawi got unexpected bad news about her husband.

"I was at home when my son came in and said, 'Mom, they killed Dad.' I said, 'Who?' He said, 'Hamas.' I asked him, 'Where?' He said, 'Next to the gas station,'" she recalls.

Badawi's husband, Ribhi Badawi, was in prison in Gaza City. He was supposed to go to court that day for a final appeal of charges that he had collaborated with Israel against Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip.

But Ribhi Badawi was taken from prison and executed in public, along with five other inmates. They were all accused of being collaborators, or informants, working for Israel.

"In this case, what was remarkable was that these men were not executed in anything resembling legislative authority or the penal authority of the Hamas government, but by armed men," says Sarah Leah Whitson, who directs the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch.

"How they managed to get these men out of prison, and then how they managed to shoot them dead in broad daylight and drag their corpses around the street is a very big question mark," she adds.

Israel's Informant Network

For decades, Israel's security forces has relied heavily on Palestinian informants to track and keep tabs on wanted Palestinians. The standard practice is for Israel to pay the informants in exchange for the information. But if uncovered, the informants are treated as traitors to the Palestinian cause and can expect to face harsh judgment in the Palestinian courts, or in some cases, through vigilante justice.

Hamas, which has been in control of Gaza since 2007, has executed people judged to be collaborators. But in the six deaths last Nov. 20, the Hamas-run government said it was not responsible.

"What happened was against the law," Islam Shawan, a spokesman for Gaza's Interior Ministry, says. "We had a high-level committee investigate, and it handed down tough punishments to security officials who failed to do their jobs."

Shawan won't name names, give ranks or offer any other information, but he claims that four people working in the prison system were punished. One was fired, one was transferred, one was jailed and one lost any chance at promotions.

He has no progress to report on tracking down the people who actually did the killings, but he does claim progress in cracking down on collaboration.

Hamas' Campaign Against Collaborators

Three months after those accused collaborators were killed, Hamas started an anti-collaboration campaign in Gaza.

TV ads played scary music with pictures of a young man being dragged to the gallows by Hamas security forces. The video storyline shows he was coerced into collaboration by doing things that could set him up for blackmail — drinking, taking drugs, searching for sex online.

Shawan says this campaign was aimed at everyone in Gaza.

"This was a national campaign — not just directed at collaborators," he says. "It was designed to educate and protect society by showing people how Israelis recruit."

People were offered a chance to turn themselves in. Shawan won't say how many did, but claimed one example: an engineering student who allegedly gave Israel information about his neighbors, his professors and student politicians. The young man wasn't punished, Shawan says, but quietly re-educated.

There was no "re-education" offered by Hamas in the case of Khulud Badawi's husband, who was a member of a rival militant group.

"I don't believe in this campaign," she says. "My husband used to tell me that people who were collaborators would confess immediately, but people who weren't would be tortured for months and never confess because they were innocent."

Just last week, two accused spies were given death sentences, suggesting that tough punishment is just as important in Hamas' efforts to crack down on collaboration as education and amnesty.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Some mixed messages have been coming from the leadership in the Gaza Strip about the consequences of collaboration. Recently, the Hamas-lead government sentenced two men to death after finding them guilty of working with Israel's intelligence services. At the same time, the government had just wrapped up a public campaign against collaboration. It claimed to take a softer approach - education and a chance at amnesty. NPR's Emily Harris travelled to Gaza and she sent this report.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Life was already grim last November 20th in Gaza when fighting raged between Israel and Hamas was raging. Then, Khulud Badawi got unexpected bad news.

KHULUD BADAWI: (Through Translator) I was at home when my son came in and said, Mom, they killed Dad. I said, who? He said, Hamas. I asked him, where? He said, next to the gas station.

HARRIS: Next to the gas station? As far as Khulud knew, her husband, Ribhi Badawi, was in prison in Gaza City. He was supposed to go to court that day for a final appeal of charges that he had collaborated with Israel against Hamas. But Ribhi Badawi was taken from prison and executed in public, along with five other inmates. They had all been accused of collaboration.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: In this case, what was remarkable is that these men were not executed in anything resembling legislative authority or the penal authority of the Hamas government, but by armed men.

HARRIS: Sarah Leah Whitson directs the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch.

WHITSON: How they managed to get these men out of prison and then how they managed to shoot them dead in broad daylight and drag their corpses around the street is a very big question mark.

HARRIS: Hamas has executed people judged to be collaborators but in this case, the Hamas-run government takes no responsibility. Islam Shawan is the spokesman for Gaza's Interior Ministry.

ISLAM SHAWAN: (Through Translator) What happened was against the law. We had a high-level committee investigate and it handed down tough punishments to security officials who failed to do their jobs.

HARRIS: He won't name names, give ranks or offer any other information but he claims that four people working in the prison system were punished. One was fired, he said, one was transferred, one was jailed and one lost any chance at promotions. He has no progress to report on tracking down the people who actually did the killings but he does claim progress in cracking down on collaboration.

Three months after those accused collaborators were killed, Hamas started an anti-collaboration campaign in Gaza. TV ads played scary music with pictures of a young man being dragged to the gallows by Hamas security forces. The video storyline shows he was coerced into collaboration by doing things that could set him up for blackmail - drinking, taking drugs, searching for sex online. Government spokesman Shawan says this campaign was aimed at everyone in Gaza.

SHAWAN: (Through Translator) This was a national campaign, not just directed at collaborators. It was designed to educate and protect society by showing people how Israelis recruit.

HARRIS: People were offered a chance to turn themselves in. Shawan won't say how many did but he claimed one example: an engineering student who allegedly gave Israel information about his neighbors, his professors and student politicians. The young man wasn't punished, Shawan says, but quietly re-educated.

There was no re-education offered by Hamas in the case of Khulud Badawi's husband, who was a member of a rival militant group.

BADAWI: (Through Translator) I don't believe in this campaign. My husband used to tell me that people who were collaborators would confess immediately, but people who weren't would be tortured for months and never confess because they were innocent.

HARRIS: Hamas won't confess to torture but with the two death sentences handed down to accused spies last week, it's clear tough punishment is just as important in Hamas' efforts to crack down on collaboration as are education and amnesty. Emily Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: