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Collaborators stuck between Israel, Palestinians
Cycle of violence strikes fear into Palestinian collaborators
By Avi Machlis
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 24, 2001
JERUSALEM, Younis Aweba dips into his pocket and
unfolds an Arabic leaflet
circulating through the West Bank, listing 14 wanted collaborators with
He calmly points to his name -- fifth from the top -- on a piece of
paper that is nothing less than his own
Even after two Palestinians have been executed by the Palestinian
Authority for collaborating with Israel,
another two have been sentenced to death and several more gunned down in the
streets of the West Bank, Aweba
maintains his serenity during an interview in the Jewish quarter of
Jerusalem's Old City.
He has nothing to fear, Aweba says.
Perhaps it is the pistol beneath his windbreaker, provided by Israel
self-defense, that gives Aweba a
sense of security in these dangerous times. Maybe his resilience is drawn
from 33 years of standing by Israel's side.
More likely, Aweba, a Muslim who works as a maintenance man at the
Western Wall, simply is trying to
deter potential assassins by projecting a brave image.
Whatever the reason, as Israeli-Palestinian violence continues for a
fourth month, stories like Aweba's are
playing themselves out across the territories in a particularly ugly way.
Collaborators with Israel, whom Palestinians consider the worst of
traitors, are under enormous pressure
from both sides: Israel is hunting for information; the Palestinian
is hunting them down.
``My name has been on the Palestinian 'wanted' list since the first
intifada," Aweba says, referring to the
Palestinian uprising against Israel between 1987 and 1993. ``I survived that
period, and I will survive this, too. But
if anything happens to me, my blood will be on the head of" Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak.
Aweba is 58, his grey hair combed back, several days' stubble dotting
his chin. His voice is throaty; as he
talks, light plays off a gold tooth.
Like a true intelligence operative, Aweba -- who has renounced his
Palestinian identity -- is careful not to
give details of how he has helped Israel over the past three decades.
Palestinian sources say he is a prominent
informer who has played key roles in cracking Palestinian terror cells and
recruiting other moles for Israel.
That reputation has made Aweba infamous in Ras al-Amud, the mostly Arab
neighborhood of eastern
Jerusalem where he has lived since 1976.
For years, his wife and 12 children have been subject to nasty stares
from neighbors and villagers, he says,
and his house occasionally has been stoned.
Earlier this year, Aweba's 30-year old son was kidnapped into areas
under Palestinian control. His
abductors forced him to sketch a map of the family home, and point out
exactly where Younis Aweba sleeps at
Under such pressure, it is difficult to imagine what drives Arab
informers to help Israel. Aweba insists his
motives are pure: Unlike other collaborators, who may provide information
because of bribes or blackmail, Aweba
says he supports Israel.
His work began just after Israel's 1967 victory in the Six-Day War,
Aweba lived in the Abu Tor
neighborhood in what had been Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem.
``I had been living under Jordanian occupation and was subject to
discrimination. Suddenly, I saw
democracy in front of my eyes," he says. ``I came to the Mahane Yehuda
market," the main produce market in
western Jerusalem, ``and saw the Jews had no tails, that they live better
than we did."
Israeli operatives visited the newly won Arab areas, and they asked
questions. Aweba answered. Only in
1972 did his neighbors start to sneer.
He escaped to Tel Aviv until 1977, when he moved back to eastern
Jerusalem and was given a gun and
Israeli citizenship. He has no regrets about his past, even though -- like
many Arabs in Israel -- he sometimes has
suffered discrimination despite his allegiance to the country.
After returning to Ras al-Amud, he had to fight a demolition order on a
home he was building; ultimately,
his work for Israel helped get him off the hook. And during his interview
with JTA, a group of yeshiva students
from a neighboring terrace cheered Aweba, although just days earlier --
before he appeared on Israeli television --
they had spat at him.
``I only hate the other side that wants me dead," he says. ``I have no
regrets, and I am proud of myself.
Nobody forced me to do this work."
This is not always the case.
Human rights groups -- who condemn the Palestinian execution policy --
also have criticized Israel's tactics
in recruiting informers.
According to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, Israel
exploits its control over movement in
the territories to woo Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority controls most of its urban centers, but
still controls movement between
cities in the West Bank, into Israel and abroad. Permits often are promised
in exchange for information.
``Even if it is not illegal for Israel to try and recruit
these tactics make it illegal," said Yael
Stein, head of research at B'Tselem. ``Israel helps protect them in very
cases, and it is clearly their obligation to
Officials at Israel's Defense Ministry and at the Prime Minister's
Office, which oversees the Shin Bet
secret service, declined to comment for this article.
But Gidon Ezra, a Likud Knesset member and former Shin Bet chief, says
Israel indeed looks after those
who provide valuable information, resettling them inside Israel -- though
their absorptions are not without
``There are a lot of people who have been fingered as having
collaborated with Israel -- even if they didn't
-- and they are between a rock and a hard place," Ezra tells JTA. ``Everyone
who did help Israel is given basic
assistance in things like housing until they get on their feet."
The problem, however, is that many of the several hundred Palestinian
collaborators who have been
accepted into Israel prefer to live in Israeli Arab communities, whose
residents often consider them traitors to the
Aweba's case is a bit more complicated; Israel in principle does not
help collaborators move from eastern
Jerusalem to Jewish sectors of the city, Ezra says, since the city is
For years, Aweba says, he has wanted to move out of Ras al-Amud into a
Jewish neighborhood of
Jerusalem, but he cannot afford the housing. Now, as his situation becomes
increasingly precarious, he has asked
Jewish friends to finance a rental.
Despite repeated disappointments, Aweba remains hopeful.
His only criticism of Israel is directed at Barak, whose concessions to
the Palestinians, he believes, have
allowed the current unrest in which the Palestinian Authority is knocking
collaborators like Aweba. Aweba
supports Ariel Sharon, the Likud Party candidate for prime minister.
Back in the West Bank, hardly anyone in the Palestinian Authority is
paying attention to those parts of the
Oslo accords that implied collaborators would be safe. International
criticism has not stopped Palestinian officials
from defending their execution policy. These officials say the collaborators
play a key role in helping Israel
liquidate Palestinian officials and militants suspected in anti-Israel
According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, seven
suspected collaborators have recently
been found dead in the streets; it's unclear whether these are cases of
vigilante justice or officially-sanctioned hits.
Part of the problem, the monitoring group says, is that Palestinians
define collaboration very loosely to
include not only those suspected of helping Israeli intelligence, but
sometimes those who sell land to Jews -- and
even to critics of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's regime.
During the original intifada, for example, Palestinians killed an
estimated 850 of their own who were
suspected of collaborating with Israel in one way or another -- almost as
high as the number of Palestinians who
died at Israel's hands in the six-year revolt.
Mireille Widmer, a researcher at the group who has studied Palestinian
treatment of collaborators, believes
most of the recent victims were suspected of involvement with the Israelis.
``There have already been seven cases of alleged collaborators killed
the streets," she says. ``The
problem is that the public is so supportive of the death penalty that there
is a danger that if the P.A. doesn't crack
down hard enough, the population is likely to take over.''
For collaborators like Aweba -- who have seen Palestinian institutions
try suspects within hours, with no
opportunity for appeal, and then shoot them down by firing squad -- there
little consolation in a recent Palestinian
offer of amnesty for those who turn themselves in within 45 days.
Reports -- still unconfirmed -- that hundreds have already given
themselves up could indicate that many
collaborators feel they have no place to hide.
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.