The Phenomenon of collaboration has existed since ancient times, even in primitive tribal societies. There are many references to it in the Torah. It is a phenomenon that accompanies power and weakness, control and occupation. The countries occupied by the Nazis – during and after the war – underwent an ethical crisis because of it.

Part of this crisis resulted from the large number of collaborators – estimated at tens of thousands or seven out of every 1,000 persons – remaining in Europe after World War II. In one way or another, they were held accountable; punishment ranged from death to prison, interrogation, slander and deprivation of important civil rights like citizenship, public sector employment, the right to vote and the right to travel. Denmark, Holland and Norway even reinstated the death penalty through retroactive legislation in order to handle extreme acts of collaboration. In France, 10,000 people were killed during the war on charges of dealing with the Nazis. In the weeks that followed the war, another 4,500 met their death.

One problem faced by societies in this predicament is the quandary of defining the word “collaborator.” Palestinian society is no exception. Answering the question, “Who is a collaborator?” is more difficult than one imagines because every person living under occupation deals with it to some degree. For example, the head of renowned French tire manufacturer Michelen supported and funded the French resistance, but was put on trial after the war for providing German military industries with tires for vehicles and warplanes.

Many Jews maintained relationships with the Nazis in order to make their transfer to camps more humane. In some instances, Jews coordinated with the Zionist movement in order to “save” victims of Nazism. The most famous of these cases was Doctor Rudolf Kasztner, who was considered the rescuer of thousands of Jews in Hungary – but was later assassinated in Tel Aviv in 1957. There were many in Europe, including individuals from the national socialist parties, who believed Kasztner was doing a national service.

My research shows that Israeli security services exploit these tensions by deceiving Palestinian collaborators into believing that by cooperating with them – since Israel is the influential power on the ground – they are serving their country.

The son of one collaborator recruited in 1969 at the age of 16 (the first collaborator to be killed in the first Intifada) claimed that some elderly members of the family agreed at the time that he collaborate with Israeli authorities in order to serve the interests of the family.

We found the same in the case of collaborator Majdi Makawi, who was one of two people officially executed by the Palestinian Authority. (He was executed at the beginning of the Intifada. After the trial, Palestine Television broadcast a live interview with him). Makawi had provided information that led to Israel’s killing of his uncle, a Fateh activist, in a premeditated ambush on the outskirts of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Israeli intelligence officers had convinced Makawi that the information he offered to Israel on his uncle’s movements would lead to his capture and that this would be the only way of saving him from death.

This arouses further complex questions. Is collaboration done out of personal or public motives? Are the dealings voluntary or forced? In Europe, some collaborated for no political reason and under no pressure. Rather they viewed the issue as a private game, a way to get money or as their own submission to the power of the occupier. Is collaboration equal in all of these cases? In the event of collaboration under extreme pressure, is there a sort of “legitimization” that justifies a softening of the punishment?

Another important dimension is through what prism collaboration should be dealt with. There is the narrow perspective of security, which sees the issue as one of punishment and prevention. This is how the Palestinian national movement has historically handled Palestinian collaborators.

But that excludes the legal dimension (the perspective of international and local law), which sees the issue from a human rights perspective. International charters – the 1949 Geneva Convention, in particular – prohibit the occupying force from resorting to such measures and consider them war crimes. Over the last two decades, international law has also become concerned with the rights of those charged with collaboration, protecting them from arbitration from the hands of an angry public.

But the most important aspect in my opinion – not to diminish the two previously discussed – is the socio-political and behavioral aspect of collaboration.

Despite the importance and universality of the phenomenon and despite the fact that national liberation leaders such as Fanon, Mao and Guevara have drawn attention to it, little literature and scientific research exists on collaboration. In general, people do not want to discuss what is considered “dirty laundry,” and Palestinians are no exception. I faced this problem while writing a large report on the subject for the Israeli institution B’Tselem, which specializes in human rights violations in the occupied territories. This report is unique in that it dealt not only with Palestine, but the rest of the world. The report was written for the Israeli group after all Palestinian human rights organizations refused to deal with the controversial topic.

Unfortunately, the lack of open discussion among Palestinians of this subject has left the arena open for Israel to manipulate perceptions of the Palestinian struggle. This is particularly true now when it might be possible to use this issue to expose the policies of the Israeli occupation. In my opinion, the subject of collaboration is currently used to destroy Palestinian society and make it lose its self-confidence. But if the subject were handled wisely, it would be possible to censure Israel, which has succeeded for a long time through its monopoly in using the issue in anti-Palestini an propaganda that focuses on the methods used to kill collaborators. The status quo of burying our heads in the sand creates an atmosphere suitable for collaborators to thrive and for the phenomenon to escalate.

In the limited space available here, it is possible to point out some characteristics of collaboration in Palestinian society and their role in the Israeli strategy.

Types of collaborators

Historically, the Zionist movement before the establishment of the state of Israel worked to recruit Arab collaborators. The Shai apparatus, which belonged to the Hagana, was commissioned with recruitment. In addition to fulfilling a traditional role, these collaborators were also commissioned to carry out acts that would further enflame the Arab and Jewish conflict in order to justify the Zionist movement’s goals. For example, two Arab collaborators were urged in 1933 to falsely confess to an alleged role in the assassination of the head of the political department in the Jewish Agency, Haim Orlozorov, in order to avoid any friction between different Zionist organizations. The Hagana also urged some Arab collaborators in 1948 to shoot at Jewish settlements in order to justify the occupation or destruction or depopulation of Arab villages. But the main mission of these collaborators was to collect information, spread rumors and buy land. Their numbers remained limited during this period.

For its part, the Palestinian national movement was aware of these traitors and positioned itself against them, the height of which was a 1935 fatwa (religious decree) allowing the execution of a collaborator, calling for his or her head and depriving him or her of religious and social rights. Marriage to a collaborator was forbidden and their burial in Muslim or Christian cemeteries was not allowed. Long before this decree, however, the liquidation of land dealers was common in Palestine.

It was after Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that it actively began building a vast and complex network of collaborators. That network sprung from two places: the legal, administrative and security system established by Israel and its prison system. Both were unique in the history of occupations.

Israel managed to turn the most basic bureaucratic administrative work into a method for recruiting collaborators. Any application for services, including visit permits for Jerusalem, working in Israel, travel, construction or getting a driver’s license was seen as a window of opportunity. All of these “normal” activities required the consent of Israeli intelligence, which was intent on trying to recruit as many assets as possible in exchange for providing these services. It must be understood then that the military administration system launched in 1967 has been largely aimed at “turning” collaborators.

Prisons also played a very important role in recruiting collaborators. Without exaggeration, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have gone to prison at least once. This is not because the Palestinian people have resisted the occupation more than any other people on earth. It is because of the specific philosophy of the prison institution within the Israeli colonialist system. Prison is viewed as a kind of sieve through which the raw material of the Palestinian population is sorted. The system then analyses and collects the political and social findings about each individual until it has information about all of the population. Usually prison was the suitable place for obtaining detailed information on an individual’s personality, relatives, family, place of work, friends, their leanings, thoughts, political affiliations and strong and weak characteristics, including leadership abilities and endurance and steadfastness. From the other side, each Palestinian that has ever been arrested has felt presented with an “offer” to work for Israeli intelligence, through terrorization or invitation.

Kinds of collaborators

Land dealers play the role of secret intermediary between Israeli settlers, companies, the National Jewish Fund, etc. and Palestinian land owners. This specific role grew out of Palestinian resistance to selling their land to Jews, even when it would most certainly be confiscated by force if needed.

The role of the land dealer is to buy land from its Palestinian owner and then secretly transfer ownership to the true Israeli buyer. This type of collaborator has been present since the start of the 20th century.

After 1967, these activities continued, although their role diminished in comparison to that prior to 1948, when land confiscation was the principle means of acquiring land. In many cases, collaborators would resort to documented collaboration with the occupying Israeli authorities by forging papers and pressuring peasants.

Another type of collaborator, the intermediary, played the role of mediating between the military administration and Palestinians, who often preferred to turn to known intermediaries in order to complete their paperwork for a fee instead of dealing with the occupation administration themselves. The intermediary is a known collaborator to the people (publicly burned) because of the nature of his role. This kind of collaborator disappeared after the arrival of the Palestinian Authority because the latter became the main provider of services. If however, the Israeli civil administration is reinstated, this kind of collaboration will return once again.

Armed collaborators are those spies whose cover has been blown and who have become intermediaries or land dealers. In a state of isolation, however, they become fugitives and prepared to use arms against their own people. These collaborators terrorize the population. They guide Israeli forces or Israeli special forces (mustaribin) to the homes of activists and wanted persons or drive the cars that carry them. This kind of collaborator also disappeared with the arrival of the Authority. A large number of them left the West Bank and went to live in Israel after the first Intifada because they were being hunted. In Israel, they live in miserable economic and social conditions.

Informants work undercover to provide the Israelis with information on the activities and movement of activists and strugglers, in addition to general information about political activity and aspects of life. Because he is secret, his work is delicate and dangerous. The informant provides information from outside the internal circle of political activities; one must differentiate between informants outside the organization and infiltrators.

Infiltrators, on the other hand, are unknown collaborators planted by Israeli intelligence inside Palestinian nationalist organizations. Some have succeeded in rising to the highest of positions. Some were activists recruited during torture and interrogation. The danger from these collaborators lies in their ability to give accurate internal information and to divert the course of the national struggle. One significant cover for these key collaborators is their own adoption of “revolutionary” stands.

Within the interrogation room, the asfour or bird plays the role of a nationalist struggler, using deception in order to extract confessions from detainees. This type of collaborator has been used extensively since 1980.

Finally, there is the political collaborator: These people are often from well-off social strata whose economic interests are linked with that of Israel. Their role is to implement long-term Israeli policies. They do not obtain specific intelligence information and are not necessarily recruiters. The successful economic stories of political collaborators usually make it easier to “turn” them. And usually, their success converges with their economic and political cooperation with the occupier.