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From the field

Collaborators in the Occupied Territories: Human Rights Abuses and Violations

January 1994, Summary


This report deals with the responsibility of Palestinian political organizations and their activists for the torture and killing of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli authorities during the Intifada. It also addresses violations of human rights by the Israeli authorities in the recruitment and activation of collaborators in the territories.

B'Tselem made extensive efforts, including hundreds of field investigations, to compile a full and accurate list of Palestinians who were killed for what the Palestinian political organizations call collaboration. However, because of the sensitivity of this subject in Palestinian society, eye-witnesses and relatives were often loath to provide full testimony about the circumstances of death. It has always been B'Tselem's practice, in cases where the available information is incomplete, not to provide unequivocal data. Consequently, we cite only the figures of the IDF Spokesman and of the Associated Press regarding the total number of Palestinians killed as suspected collaborators. However, in several places the report does cite partial data concerning various aspects of the subject, in cases where we were able to obtain satisfactory information.

According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson, 942 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians on suspicion of collaboration between December 9, 1987, when the Intifada erupted, and November 30, 1993.1 The Associated Press puts the number at 771.

According to data supplied to B'Tselem by the Ministry of Defense, between 35 and 40 percent of those killed were employed by the government, or were in some other way connected to one of the branches of the Israeli administration. The remainder of those killed had no connection to the government. Ten to 15 percent of these were killed for criminal activity, "especially in drugs and prostitution"; and a small number were killed "because they violated the "directives of the uprising" or, for example, sold pornographic video films in defiance of the orders of the Islamic organizations.

Since 1967, the security forces have recruited tens of thousands of Palestinians from the territories to serve as collaborators. This was made possible in part by the great dependence of the Palestinians on services provided by the Israeli administration. In recruiting collaborators, the security forces used methods that contravene international law, such as providing certain services only on condition that the recipient cooperate with the authorities. They also resorted to extortion and pressure, and offered various inducements.

The collaborators received preferential treatment from the authorities, and many of them took full advantage of their status. Collaborators, especially those who were armed, frequently used violence against other Palestinians, whether as part of their duties as collaborators or for personal motives. For these and other reasons, which are described in the report, broad sections of the Palestinian population fiercely objected to the activity of the collaborators.

The vacuum created by the collapse of all systems of law-and-order in the territories (police, courts, and officers of the court) during the Intifada was filled by squads or cells identified with the various organizations, both Islamic and PLO-affiliated, which took it upon themselves to impose order. As such, among other activities, they set about punishing suspected collaborators. Punitive measures were also taken against Palestinians who did not serve the authorities as collaborators but who were defined as such because their behavior was considered harmful to the society or to the Palestinian struggle. During the Intifada, attacks on individuals who were branded collaborators obtained legitimation and even support from broad sections of the Palestinian population.

A. Palestinian Accountability

During the Intifada, many hundreds of individuals were tortured and killed by Palestinians because they were said to be collaborating with the Israeli authorities. Those responsible included not only the perpetrators themselves, but the Palestinian political organizations, with whom the perpetrators were identified, and on whose political, ideological and fiscal support they relied.

The report shows that most of the attacks on suspected collaborators were carried out by cells closely connected with the various factions of the PLO. B'Tselem's research, and particularly the testimony taken from B'Tselem by cell commanders and members, show that the PLO leadership in Tunis is in contact with and finances local cells that are identified with the PLO. While it is true that many of these cells no longer accept the organization's authority as fully as in the past, and that some of them operate quite independently, as long as there is an organizational and financial connection between them, the leadership can be held responsible for their activity.

The PLO leadership and the Unified National Command of the Uprising have expressed reservations about some of the killings, imputing them to local groups which are not identified with them or did not obey their orders. On the other hand, however, Palestinian leaders have on various occasions urged that "warning procedures" be taken before every killing, suggesting that in certain circumstances they justify the killings.

Hamas, the largest of the Islamic organizations in the territories, is responsible for killing over 150 suspected collaborators. In contrast with the PLO leadership and affiliated cells, Hamas has taken a consistent and staunch public position in favor of the killing of collaborators. It is clear, from a conversation conducted by B'Tselem with the founder and leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, that Hamas not only justifies the killing of collaborators, it also takes responsibility for many of those killings.

Although several leaders of the Palestinian organizations publicly dissociated themselves from the torture and killing of suspected collaborators by Palestinians during the Intifada, none of the heads of these organizations made a sufficient effort to halt these actions, either by punishing those involved, by issuing warnings that they would be punished in the future, or by severing organizational ties with those responsible. The absence of an unequivocal condemnation by the Palestinian leadership, and its lenient attitude toward the perpetrators were among the main causes of the legitimation which the attacks on suspected collaborators received among large sections of the Palestinian population.

The Palestinian political organizations, who seek political recognition and consider themselves the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians in the territories, are not exempt from the obligation to respect human rights. They bear responsibility for infringements of human rights carried out at their orders or with their explicit or implicit agreement. These organizations have argued that, in the absence of institutional tools of enforcement, the killing of collaborators is the only alternative available to the Palestinians in their attempt to confront the collaboration phenomenon. B'Tselem, however, strongly rejects these attempts to justify such grave violations as arbitrary killing, torture and cruel treatment. The fact that Palestinians live under military rule, where the slightest sign of opposition is punished with a heavy hand and the extensive assistance of collaborators, does not mitigate the severity of these actions. Severe violations of human rights, are not justifiable in any situation or circumstance, no matter how difficult or extenuating.

Torture and killing, then, cannot be justified by citing a "state of emergency." The absence of alternatives for coping with the collaboration phenomenon does not validate such actions, nor can the damage caused to the Palestinian public in the territories excuse torture or the taking of human life. Moreover, the broad definition placed on the term "collaborator" by Palestinian organizations and their activists and their modus operandi led to the killing of hundreds of Palestinians who did not operate in the service of the security authorities. Many were killed because their behavior was perceived as immoral or because they were considered "negative elements" in the society, or for other reasons. Some killings were carried out within the framework of internal disputes, or to settle personal rivalries, and were then portrayed as punishment for collaboration.

B'Tselem calls on the Palestinian political organizations that were involved in acts of cruel punishment, torture and killing as described in this report to desist immediately from carrying out such actions or approving them, explicitly or implicitly, and to dissociate themselves in every way possible from the perpetrators. It is imperative that any steps taken against suspects be preceded by a fair procedure that meets minimal legal standards. As long as no such procedure is carried out, the organizations must refrain from taking any steps. In any case, even after such a procedure, imposition of punishments that constitute human rights violations remains absolutely prohibited.

B'Tselem welcomes recent statements in the name of the PLO and Hamas calling for an end to the killing of collaborators. At the same time, B'Tselem expresses its concern that despite these statements, the killings are continuing.

B. Responsibility of the Israeli Government

Although Israel does not bear direct responsibility for the torture and killing of collaborators, its actions and its failure to act in a number of aspects related to the collaborators contravene its obligations according to international law and general principles of justice. The report shows that many of the methods used by the security authorities to recruit collaborators, such as pressure, threats, extortion, and making the granting of services or permits conditional on assistance to the authorities conflict with international law and violate human rights.

Many of the actions carried out by the collaborators as agents of the state violate human rights. An example is the use of torture and other unacceptable methods by collaborators who take part in the interrogation of Palestinian detainees as agents of the security authorities. International law unequivocally and absolutely prohibits the use of torture and maltreatment during interrogations, under any circumstances. Israel violates this prohibition both when members of the security forces themselves resort to unacceptable means of interrogation, and when such methods are used by collaborators who are sent to extract confessions.

The responsibility of the authorities is not confined to actions which the collaborators commit as their agents. The authorities have the duty to take measures to prevent collaborators from committing criminal actions and to try those responsible. The investigation shows that collaborators were frequently implicated in criminal offenses, such as forgery, fraud and violent crime. There is no consistent policy of law enforcement in criminal cases involving collaborators.

To enable collaborators to protect themselves against attacks by other Palestinians, the authorities supplied many of them with weapons for self-defense. As the report documents, collaborators frequently used those weapons illegally, to threaten, wound, or even kill other Palestinians. In many cases, the authorities turned a blind eye to such abuses and did not bring the full rigor of the law to bear on the perpetrators. According to international law, Israel is obligated to ensure the safety and security of all residents of the territories, impartially and without discrimination.

The mechanisms of the Military Government, which are responsible for providing services to the population, are not fulfilling their duty properly. This situation, combined with the vast dependence of the Palestinians in the territories on the branches of the Military Government, led to the emergence in the territories of an institution of "lobbyists," collaborators and individuals with close ties to the authorities who, for a price, act as go-betweens and obtain services and permits needed by the local residents. Often, granting of a service, permit or license is conditioned on the applicant's agreement to collaborate, rather than the administration's operating according to uniform and substantive criteria. Recruitment of collaborators through pressure, exploitation of personal strife, and making supply of essential services dependent on collaboration, contravenes international law.

As part of their obligation to ensure the safety and security of all residents of the territories, the authorities should provide adequate protection to Palestinians suspected of being collaborators, whether they actually worked for the security authorities or were exposed to danger for other reasons. The number of Palestinians killed for suspected collaboration during the Intifada points to a prima facie failure in the realm of protection.

As for Palestinians who have attacked suspected collaborators, the authorities make efforts to apprehend, try, and punish those involved. Frequently, however, the authorities react excessively and resort to unacceptable measures, such as collective punishment, especially the demolition or sealing of suspects' houses. Some of those sought on suspicion of attacking suspected collaborators were declared wanted individuals and some were even killed by the security forces.

B'Tselem calls on the government of Israel to cease immediately the use of unacceptable methods to recruit collaborators. The authorities must also stop using collaborators to carry out actions which violate human rights, as they must cease to carry out such actions themselves. One uniform law must be applied to all residents of the territories, impartially and without discrimination, in a manner respecting the rights of every individual. Israel must provide effective protection to Palestinians suspected of collaboration, and rehabilitation for those attacked or exposed to threats.