Thank you for your cooperation

The state spends millions of shekels to settle Palestinian informants in Israel. Is it enough?

By LARRY DERFNER
March 2, 2006 11:33

'Mussa," a former Palestinian collaborator who was relocated by the Shin Bet from the West Bank to Israel in 1994, sits with a fixed smile throughout our interview. He says he and his family - two wives and many children - have no problems in their current life. "I make a decent living, my children go to school - yes, they're proud of me - and I get along with my neighbors," he says. "I have my honor." A stocky, plain-looking, bespectacled man of about 40, Mussa is self-employed and lives in an urban, mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood. Asked what he has to say to Israeli Arabs who consider him a traitor, he maintains, "They have no right to object to what I did for Israel - they're living in this country, they should be loyal to the state." As for Palestinians who want him dead, he smiles thinly and says, "They're the enemy, there's nothing to say to them." A one-time "Fatah Youth" member - an unwilling one, and never a killer, he emphasizes - Mussa says he volunteered his services to the Shin Bet at age 18 or 19 - not for money, or for protection from Palestinian enemies, but "for the sake of justice." Other members of his hamula, or extended family, were also collaborators. He survived like this in the West Bank for more than a decade because he had a large hamula behind him. "Also," he says, "because I had a gun." Our interview was arranged by a Shin Bet unit called the Security Administration for Assistance, which basically adopts Palestinian collaborators, reportedly numbering upwards of 1,000, who've been relocated in Israel since the PLO returned to the territories in 1994. The unit promised Mussa he would not be identified. When we finish speaking and I thank Mussa for the interview, he instantly uncoils in his chair and lets out not a sigh, but a soft groan of relief. However much truth there had or hadn't been to what he said, of candor there had been none. IN CONTRAST, an unscripted performance by relocated collaborators took place last December 15 in the Galilee village of Umm el-Kutuf. The tension that had been building there came to a head as local resident Fahme Kabha, 43, was shot to death in what villagers say was an ambush by the town's collaborators. "Fahme had taken part in the local demonstrations against them," notes a cousin and neighbor, Dr. Mustafa Kabha, a lecturer in Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University who arrived at the site of the shooting about an hour after it occurred. That night, as the armed collaborators held off angry residents after the shooting, thousands of Arabs from the region converged on the hilltop village. Police arrived in force and extricated the four collaborator families who had been settled in the village about five years ago. After police left, the mob torched the families' homes. Ilan Sadeh, head of the Menashe Regional Council, which includes Umm el-Kutuf, said police told him one of the collaborators has confessed to the killing. "They brought drugs and crime to the village, things we'd never known," says Kabha, standing in his yard and pointing to the burned-out houses nearby. The 700-odd villagers had ostracized them, for both political and social reasons. "It's traditional for Muslims to shake hands after prayers, but after they would finish praying in [the village] mosque, no one would shake their hands," he says. Relocated collaborators and their families reside throughout Israel - about 60 percent of them in mixed Jewish-Arab cities such as Acre, Haifa, Ramle, Lod and Jaffa, and the remainder in Arab cities and villages. They are hated by the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs, and their general reputation even among Israeli Jews is that of criminals and drug dealers who became "snitches" for purely selfish, not ideological, reasons. Security sources - who dislike the old Hebrew term mashtapim, or collaborators, and prefer the more upbeat sayanim, or helpers - say these are terribly unfair, inaccurate stereotypes. "Sayanim run the gamut from the most highly educated urban professional to the most unschooled peasant, from the most Western to the most Eastern," say the sources. COLLABORATORS ARE a prime source of information needed to thwart terror attacks; others are prisoner interrogations and surveillance (phone taps, etc.). When security forces report that they are currently dealing with 57 terror alerts, for example, or a suicide bomber loose in the Sharon region, or when they intercept a bomber on his way into Israel, there's a very good chance at least some of the info comes from collaborators. In return for this information, the Shin Bet unit provides relocated collaborators with most of the money toward the purchase of a home, helps them find jobs, straightens out the more severe problems that occasionally arise with their neighbors, provides years of tutoring for their children and psychological counseling, if necessary, for the whole family. The total cost reaches well into the millions of dollars. The unit considers itself the collaborators' adoptive family, and acts on the conviction that Israel owes these people a "moral debt." "Most of the families don't find out that the head of their household is a sayan until we get them out of [the West Bank or Gaza] and bring them to Israel. Often they don't know until the very last moment, when the danger is literally closing around them and they have to leave with only the clothes on their back. The sayan himself has already made the psychological switch, but the wives and children haven't, and suddenly their lives have turned completely upside down. Their new life is in Israel, which they've always thought of as the enemy. It's not a simple adjustment for them. It takes time," say the sources. The great majority of collaborators, security sources continue, eventually become "successful" - meaning they work steadily and their families live stable lives. Those who live among Jews "often become close friends with their neighbors. Some Jewish families appreciate what they did for Israel, and go out of their way to welcome them. It's really beautiful." A handful of collaborators have even converted to Judaism. Mussa lived the first decade of his life in Israel among Jewish neighbors. "When I left, they cried," he says. Many Jewish neighbors of other collaborators, however, don't want them around, mainly out of fear. The "failures" among relocated collaborators are those who return to the West Bank or Gaza. "They can be counted on the fingers of one hand," say security sources. "Their end isn't a happy one. Either they're thrown in a Palestinian jail, or they get shot in the town square, or they agree to take part in a terror attack on Israelis to clear their name." Some who were criminals in the territories ultimately go back to crime in Israel, often ending up in jail. Haifa police say some collaborators living in the city's Hadar area have become part of the area's highly active criminal element. And a substantial percentage of collaborators in Israel live permanently on welfare. STILL, FOR Israel as a whole, the collaborators are not a problem. For the Israeli Arab minority, however, they are. "They're unwanted wherever they go," says Kabha. In recent years, he says, a dispute between collaborators and local residents in Baka al-Gharbiya, a large Galilee town, ended with a mob setting fire to a collaborator's home, which left two youths in the mob dead from smoke inhalation. Some residents in the lower Galilee town of Tira were injured when a mob ran a local collaborator rumored to be selling pornographic films out of town. A similar scene of a mob kicking a collaborator family out of their village occurred in the Galilee village of Makir-Jaidayda. Security sources put this sort of reaction down to "hatred" on the part of Israeli Arabs toward collaborators. But in Umm el-Kutuf, at least, the local campaign against the collaborators was joined by some of the village's Jewish neighbors. Among the 1,000 or so people who rallied in protest against the collaborators two weeks before the shooting was regional council head Sadeh. "While Israel owes collaborators a debt for helping in the fight against terror, they should be resettled among larger Arab populations, in cities, not in small villages where they stand out," he says. When they are given land in Arab villages on which to build houses, as they were in Umm el-Kutuf, this acts as a further provocation because Arab villages and cities are notoriously short of land to accommodate the housing needs of new generations, he adds. The final insult, he says, is that the clearest cause of the Arab sector's land shortage, as in Umm el-Kutuf, is the state's confiscations of land vacated by local residents during the War of Independence. "This is land that could have gone to the descendants of the people who left in 1948 and 1949, so when it's given to collaborators, the villagers do not take it well," he notes. Sadeh, a member of Kibbutz Ma'anit, says he does not know if the collaborator families brought drugs and crime to Umm el-Kutuf, as Kabha says. While noting sarcastically that such social problems are found even in communities with no collaborators, Sadeh adds, "This certainly is the popular image people have of collaborators. It's understood that they tend not to be model citizens. They turned against their own people, and in the main they did not do it out of Zionist motivations." Arye Magal, a member of Kibbutz Barkai who also took part in the demonstration in Umm el-Kutuf, says one of his objections to the settling of collaborators in the area is "the danger it exposes us to. A lot of collaborators have been resettled in [the nearby Jewish town of] Harish, which is where the Karaja crime family [formerly from Ramle] also was resettled, and a friend of mine in Harish says the collaborators are known as street criminals there. Sometimes they come driving to the infirmary at our kibbutz in BMWs. Where do they get that kind of money?" Magal asks rhetorically. WHILE the Shin Bet employs psychologists and social workers to help collaborators and their families adjust to life in Israel, it does not consider the collaborators' motivations to be relevant. "No negative connotations are attached to them whatsoever. They are seen as victims, as people who prevented the murder of innocent Jews and who were endangered because of it. The only concern is to help them become integrated in Israel as normative citizens," security sources say. The Shin Bet's relocation of collaborators who were "burned" (exposed) and thus subject to revenge by Palestinians, actually began in 1988, after the outbreak of the first intifada when Israel still had control over all the territories. These collaborators were taken and housed in a protected West Bank village, Fahme, near Jenin. Once the PLO took over the territories in 1994, Fahme was no longer safe, so they had to be brought across the Green Line into Israel proper. First they are put up in hotels. Then, after the Security Administration for Assistance has consulted with them and scouted the country for suitable locales, they are settled into a residential neighborhood. "The research is very detailed. Sometimes it is determined that one side of a certain street is not suitable to house the collaborator and his family, for instance, because there are many religious residents living there and they wouldn't accept them, while the opposite side of the street is okay," explain security sources. The collaborators can't hide their identity from their new neighbors. "For one thing, their accent is different from the accent of Israeli Arabs. Their customs, their clothes, their language - everything is different. And even if they make up some story, their kids talk to the other kids in school," the sources say. Rumors, both true and false, spread; on the day after the killing and riot in Umm el-Kutuf, a local family's house was burned because it was believed they, too, were collaborators. When it turned out to everyone's satisfaction that they were not collaborators, a collection was taken up in the village to reimburse the family. Asked if the Shin Bet - with its policy of running collaborators amidst Palestinians and resettling them amidst Israeli Arabs - considered such false rumors and attacks to be unintended consequences of its policy, and thus accepted some measure of responsibility for them, security sources reply flatly "no," placing total responsibility on the Arab rumor-mongers and assailants. Israeli Arabs "don't like having sayanim among them, but this is a country of law and they just have to learn to live with it," the security sources continue. In the rare cases that neighbors have made serious threats against collaborators, these neighbors were contacted by the Security Administration for Assistance, and the trouble ended. Mussa figures "about 70%" of his Arab neighbors accept him despite his background. LAST SUMMER'S disengagement from Gaza and four upper West Bank settlements did not bring any new collaborators into Israel for resettlement, security sources say. That, however, would surprise many Israelis who got the mistaken impression from the media that the Gaza village of Dahaniya was populated by collaborators who were coming to live in this country. While over 100 of Dahaniya's 400 or so residents have been resettled in Israel, they were not collaborators. The village - named after an Israeli official named Dahan who helped set it up - got the reputation as an all-collaborator locale because, like Fahme in the West Bank, it was used by the Shin Bet as a sanctuary for collaborators in the years between the outbreak of the first intifada and the entry of the PLO to the territories. But the Dahaniya residents who were resettled in Israel last August, alongside the evacuation of Gush Katif, aren't even Palestinians at all. Instead, they are members of the Sinai Beduin tribe Armilat, for whom Israel set up the Dahaniya enclave in 1977 in exchange for some of the tribe's land in Sinai, which Israel used for the Yamit settlements. "They built an electronic fence around Dahaniya, we weren't allowed to go into Gaza and nobody from Gaza was allowed into Dahaniya. I've never been in Gaza in my life," says Massad Ashtiwi, 33, a spokesman for the resettled Beduin. They couldn't very well have informed on Palestinians in Gaza while living strictly apart from them in a closed, IDF-fortified enclave, notes Ashtiwi and Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Civil Administration, which is in charge of the Armilat's resettlement. Dahaniya sat a few hundred meters from the Kerem Shalom crossing point into Israel; residents were transported to and from their jobs on nearby kibbutz and moshav farms without ever passing through the Gaza interior. Today they languish, unemployed, in tin sheds on a stretch of wasteland at the edge of the Negev Beduin village of Tel Arad. The IDF reached an agreement with the al-Jahabib tribe, one of four living in Tel Arad, to act as host and protector of the Armilat, says Sheikh Juma'ah el-Kashchar, the leader of the al-Jahabib in Tel Arad who is also a staff-sergeant major in the IDF and a veteran tracker. The remaining residents of Dahaniya stayed in Gaza, mainly in the hope of making their way back to their "mother" tribe in Sinai. The 100-odd Beduin who came to Tel Arad are isolated, far from work opportunities, with the few cars between them as their only transportation. Their surroundings are desolate - near their sheds is a wadi where they dump their garbage, rusted debris lies here and there, the water pipe breaks regularly and the rank portable toilets are by now beyond use, leaving people to take a walk and relieve themselves in the sand. The families received about NIS 30,000 each from the Civil Administration, but they say the money went for their tin sheds and generators. Beyond those stipends, they live on welfare from the National Insurance Institute. Wearing keffiyehs and the olive-green coats they got from the IDF, the Armilat Beduin at Tel Arad say the Israeli Arab community, including the Beduin of the Negev, have ostracized them as collaborators. "There was incitement against us in the mosques. Taleb A-Sanaa [a Negev Beduin Knesset member] wrote in the Arab newspapers that we were collaborators," says Ismail Armilat, 48. "My father took me to enroll in a high school in the area, and the principal told us flat out that he wouldn't accept me because we were collaborators," says Mohammed Armilat, 18. Another man recalls when he hitched a ride with a local Beduin and told him he was from the Armilat tribe at Tel Arad. "He said, 'Oh, you're one of the collaborators.' But after I explained to him the truth, he said he understood." The tribe hopes one day to live or at least work again among the Jewish moshavniks who've known and employed them for nearly 30 years; for now, though, the Jews don't want them and the Arabs, except for their host tribe in Tel Arad, have shunned them as traitors. They've exchanged an isolated but at least liveable enclave in Gaza for a barren stretch of no-man's land in Israel. BY COMPARISON, the actual Palestinian collaborators resettled in this country have it pretty good. The Shin Bet looks after their every need. For the future, the unit's main concern is with the children of the collaborators. "When they reach 15 or 16, they start to ask their parents difficult questions," say security sources. They say France's recent experience with the Harkis - the Algerian collaborators resettled in France after the French left Algeria in 1962 - shows that the identity crisis comes fully to the surface in the third generation, among the resettled collaborators' grandchildren. In the mixed city of Ramle, whose population is about 70,000, hundreds of families of collaborators have been resettled since 1994, mainly in the Arab section of the city. The same has happened in neighboring Lod. Because of Ramle's size, the resettled collaborators don't stand out like they do in an Arab village. Their children make up a large proportion of the student body in Ramle's Arab schools. The state-sponsored community center, or matnas, in the city's Arab sector takes part in a nationwide tutoring program, called Shahaf, for the children of collaborators. The head of the matnas in Ramle's Arab sector, former city councilman Michael Fanous, has a clear distaste for collaborators, even though he assumes most of them went to work for the Shin Bet either out of economic desperation or because they were blackmailed into it. However, Fanous says he holds nothing whatsoever against the collaborators' children, and wants only to integrate them into the Israeli Arab community. He is confident this will happen, citing local history for evidence, but only with time. "There are a lot of Arabs in Ramle whose families were collaborators - spies - for Israel in 1948, and nobody knows who they are anymore. Same [with the families of collaborators from the 1948 War of Independence] in other mixed cities - nobody knows their origin. Today they're part of the Arab community of Israel," he says. "So we want to teach the children of these new collaborators to be loyal to their people, the Arab people. They're not Jews, you know. We're trying to help these kids, to teach them, support them, and over the coming generations the stigma they carry will disappear. Time will provide the solution."


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