Out of the frying pan...

A life of fear and secrecy for Palestinian collaborators in Sderot.

Kassam Sderot 88,224 (photo credit: )
Kassam Sderot 88,224
(photo credit: )
In rocket-battered Sderot, now warily watching the nascent truce, dozens of Palestinians - former collaborators and informers from the Gaza Strip - live in silence and isolation, hidden from the public eye. Unable to return to Gaza, they fear the Kassam attacks from their Palestinian brothers and worry about the families they left behind. Most of all, they fear the revenge of Hamas. According to the municipality there are 17 registered families, but there might be as many as 80. Dozens more are spread out in adjacent places in the Negev. They chose Sderot because it was an inexpensive town close to the Gaza border and convenient for occasional family visits. The irony, of course, is that in fleeing Gaza, they have found themselves in the Gaza firing line with their new Israeli neighbors. The life of "A" is split in two parts: The one he left behind in Gaza and his life today in Sderot. Now 60, "A" was once a rich farmer in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. He still owns a four-story house, several warehouses, stables and hundreds of dunams of land there. But some 15 years ago he was approached by an operative of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and asked if he could provide some information. "A" was willing to comply and placed himself on the other side, the Israeli side. "I did not do it for the money," he stressed. "I honestly believed and still believe today that we have to put a halt to terror organizations in Gaza because not only do they harm Israel but also damage our own Palestinian society." In Gaza, people live under a constant fear that extremist organizations will boycott you, lock you out from work, money or worse." "A" did not want to specify which information he once gathered for Israel, because it concerned sensitive security issues, but he did say he infiltrated terror cells and that the information he passed on to security forces saved Israeli lives. He said he only left Gaza about 10 years ago, when it became too dangerous for him to stay because his cover had been blown. One day he came home from work and was ambushed by two men with drawn pistols. They shot him in the shoulder and knee. With the assistance of his Israeli contacts, he fled to Israel. But the authorities here did not let him take his wife and eight children out of Gaza. His eldest son tried to escape, but did not succeed. Although the situation was very upsetting in the beginning - "A" has not seen his family since fleeing the Strip - he said he has made peace with it, although part of him will always remain in Gaza. "We knew I would not be able to return and be together as a family," he said. "Therefore my wife and I decided to divorce. We are still in regular contact by phone." He remarried, has six children in Sderot and has built a new life in Israel. His children go to the local kindergarten and elementary school, speak fluent Hebrew, dress like Israelis and even have Hebrew names like Yisrael, Ariel and Avraham. He lives on welfare because he is handicapped due to his wounds. "Israel is a terrific country," he said. "Show me one Arab country in the Middle East that takes care of its people so well. I received a nice house and the state pays for my children's education. It is really okay." But as he told his story his dark eyes shifted nervously from me to the garden gate at the entrance to his home. He slowly sipped a coffee and continued: "The downside is that Hamas blacklisted me. Recently it even broadcast a very slanderous report on me. I run the risk that I will be discovered and do you know what will happen?" He laughed bitterly and made the gesture of cutting his throat. The family lives in a kind of huge prison, his wife said. The children do not go to public playgrounds and the family doesn't even go to the local supermarket for fear of being recognized. According to "A," Hamas members are everywhere, also in Israel. "There are family ties between the Arabs of Israel and Palestinians, among them members of terrorist organizations, which go far beyond their loyalty to Israel. From the Arab used-clothing dealer who visits Sderot once a week to the vendor in the market in Rahat, they are all potential Hamas informers. They can hear from my accent that I'm a Gazan and then the conclusion is easily drawn. Israel refuses - for security reasons, they say - to give me a gun license. But without a weapon I can't defend myself and my family. I'm a sitting duck."