Analysis: How does Israel recruit Palestinian informants in Gaza?

Erez border crossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
According to human-rights organizations, the Palestinian group Hamas has executed over 50 alleged Israeli informants in the Gaza Strip. Nearly two dozen Gaza residents were accused of collaborating with Israel and summarily shot in the weeks following the recent war between Israel and Hamas. There are serious concerns over the absence of appropriate legal processes in these executions. The issue of legal standards aside, however, there is little question that Israeli intelligence agencies have for decades relied on Palestinian informants to gather information on Arab communities in Israel and the Occupied Territories. These individuals provide the Israeli intelligence establishment with human intelligence or plant technical surveillance equipment as instructed by their handlers. But how do Israeli intelligence agencies, including the Mossad and Shin Bet, recruit Palestinian informants in difficult-to-penetrate places such as the Gaza Strip?

Palestinians who have been personally wronged by Hamas, or who oppose the militant group’s seven-year rule in the Gaza Strip, constitute low-hanging fruit for Israeli recruiters. Other informants, such as petty-thieves and other small-time criminals, are recruited through traditional intelligence techniques that include entrapment or blackmail. But it would be reasonable to assume that most recruits are lured by direct cash payments. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip is currently estimated at 40 percent, which makes offers of cash extremely enticing for a significant segment of the Gazan population. One officer in the Shin Bet —Israel’s domestic intelligence agency— said recently in respect to the recruitment of informants that “everything starts and ends with money”.

Along with offers of cash, many Palestinians are lured into working for Israeli intelligence agencies by being offered highly-sought-after travel permits to Israel or to Egypt. On occasion, the Shin Bet has been known to use the Erez border crossing, which connects Israel with the Gaza Strip, to apply pressure on Palestinian men to work as collaborators. This is especially applicable during times when the Rafah border crossing, which connects the Gaza Strip with Egypt is closed by the authorities, thus forcing Palestinian guest workers and other travelers to commute via Erez.

A wife of a former Palestinian informant from Gaza told Al Jazeera this week that Israeli intelligence recruiters targeted her husband for recruitment ten years ago, precisely because they knew that he was facing significant financial hardship. The Israelis offered him cash payments and a lucrative travel permit that allowed him to work in Israel. Not long afterwards, her husband’s Israeli handlers convinced her to work for them as well, in exchange for allowing her to take one of her many children to an Israeli hospital for free medical treatment.

Palestinian officials accuse Israel of exploiting the humanitarian needs of Palestinians, including their often desperate need for medical treatment, in order to coerce them into working as collaborators. Some even claim that the Shin Bet and the Mossad will often threaten the families of collaborators who are considering quitting from working for them, or who seem to be hesitant to continue to provide information to the Israelis. In one case, Israeli intelligence allegedly approached a Palestinian worker in 1995 and threatened to revoke his travel permit unless he agreed to collect information on the whereabouts and activities of leading members of Hamas.

According to one report, Palestinian collaborators are often asked to provide information that may at first be considered harmless, such as reporting on the types of clothes that are hanging to dry outside specific apartments or houses. But these are often crucial pieces of intelligence that can lead to targeted assassination operations by Israeli forces. The types of clothes hanging at a balcony are often indicators of whether a male member of the household, who is being sought by the Israelis, has returned and is living at a given location. In other cases, Palestinian collaborators are asked to transfer cash funds into Gaza and distribute them at different drop points as payments to other informants.

Hamas has refused to address the absence of legal processes when it comes to executing alleged collaborators. Its spokesmen claim that those executed confessed to being Israeli informants during brief periods of imprisonment, or under interrogation. One Gaza judge told Al Jazeera that “Palestinian resistance groups should be fair and comply with laws. It is enough that Israel kills scores of us on a daily basis”.

We welcome informed comments and corrections. Comments attacking or deriding the author(s), instead of addressing the content of articles, will NOT be approved for publication.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: