April 1, 2002
By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY
BETHLEHEM — Palestinians turned their guns on each other Monday when 11 men suspected of collaborating with Israel were executed. The executions came as Israel intensified its crackdown on West Bank cities it called "nests of Palestinian terror." Late Sunday and Monday, Israeli troops moved into Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Bethlehem and the villages of Al Khader and Beit Jala. The killings of alleged collaborators, as Palestinians call them, have — like the suicide attacks on Israeli civilians — reached a new peak. Israel's incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas have unleashed an extraordinary wave of Palestinian anger at other Palestinians suspected of helping the enemy.
"Every time Israel attacks us, the crazy militants look for scapegoats and they are usually fellow Palestinians," said Osama Barakat, 41, a Palestinian shop owner in Bethlehem. "It doesn't make a difference if these people are guilty or not. This killing is out of control."
The corpses of eight Palestinian men were discovered early Monday in Tulkarem, a West Bank city. Witnesses said two masked gunmen entered a Palestinian intelligence building where the men were being held and summarily shot them. Their bodies were then dragged outside into the street.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, said its gunmen had murdered them.
The bullet-riddled bodies of two men were found in a side street in Qalqilya. The discovery was made as Israeli troops seized control of the town with about 60 tanks and several hundred infantry soldiers.
Local residents said the two men had been held in a Palestinian jail for a year on suspicion of collaborating with Israeli authorities.
A man was fatally shot in Bethlehem after he was accused of sending intelligence to Israel by e-mail. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade said it also carried out that killing. The group also had claimed responsibility for the deaths of two suspected collaborators in March in Bethlehem.
The past month has seen a dramatic increase in the number of suspected Palestinian collaborators killed. In March, 10 were killed. In comparison, 24 suspected collaborators died from the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 to March.
Analysts suggest the number of murders rose because Palestinians feared that the suspected collaborators might have been rescued when Israeli troops moved in.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat described the killings as "very, very unfortunate," but he did not condemn them.
He said the Israeli actions were undermining the ability of the Palestinian Authority to maintain law and order in the territories.
"It shows that (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon is destroying our ability, destroying the Palestinian Authority," Erekat said. "I don't want to justify such things. These things are not justifiable, honestly. That's the result of what Sharon is doing. Where is our authority today amid all these tanks and all these attacks?"
To most Palestinians, a collaborator is considered a betrayer to the cause of Palestinian independence and statehood.
"There is absolutely no greater crime against the Palestinian people," said Sana Madani, 21, a student in Nablus. "The people are worse than dogs. They deserve to die."
The crime is considered so great that some accused collaborators are tried or killed without evidence. Many Palestinian lawyers refuse to defend an alleged collaborator for fear of reprisals.
"People are convicted and killed without any of the standards of international law," said Bassem Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in Jerusalem. "They are sometimes caught, tried, convicted and killed in the same day."
While collaborators are considered pariahs in Palestinian society, Israeli security officials see them as a necessity.
Government officials credit collaborators — "Israeli agents" — with helping them locate and assassinate dozens of suspected Muslim militants since the Palestinian uprising started. They also say collaborators give them information on the location and strengths of Palestinian militias.
"Israel would not be as successful in hunting down terrorists if we did not have the participation of (collaborators)," said an Israeli security official who goes by the name Abu Issa. "These men have become our eyes and ears in the territories."
In exchange for their information, Israel pays collaborators up to $120 a week. That's more than double the amount most Palestinians earn in a month. They also are offered loans, employment, housing, building licenses and government identification cards. All of these are nearly impossible for many Palestinians to obtain because of Israel's control over the area.
On Monday, Israeli troops remained in Ramallah, where Arafat was surrounded in his headquarters.
The chief of Arafat's Fatah faction in Lebanon threatened to launch attacks against U.S. interests if the Palestinian leader is harmed by Israel.
"If one hair on the head of Arafat is harmed," Sultan Abul-Aynayn told the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, "the U.S. had better protect its interests around the world. I mean what I am saying."
Contributing: Jack Kelley in Washington