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I found myself in a very difficult position this week. Without giving much thought to it, I had begun defending the decision of the Palestinian Authority to execute a number of Palestinians accused of facilitating sensitive information that led to the Israeli army’s assassination of intifada leaders.
My arguments were simple. The situation in the occupied territories is akin to war, with the "enemy" shelling our populated neighborhoods from tanks and helicopters and Israeli sharpshooters gunning down our people.
The most frightening has been the Israeli death squads who are playing judge, jury and executioner. They are given specific orders to kill Palestinian leaders without attempting to arrest them and allow them due process of law.
This is not simply a Palestinian allegation. It has actually been publicly admitted by Israeli military officials.
Given the situation of "war" and the information supplied to the Israelis as key to the success of the assassinations, it seemed to me that the Palestinian National Assembly had no choice but to take radical deterrent steps.
Surprisingly enough, my opponents were many and they didn’t come from supporters of Amnesty International.
To describe the situation as "war" is not appropriate, I was told. How can it be war when the Israelis are informing the PNA when and where they plan to shell? How can it be described as war when top political and security officials are meeting all the time? Both public and secret meetings are taking place all the time.
Rani, a television producer who spent time in an Israeli jail during the first intifada, was the first to jump all over me when I tried to defend the executions.
Did you see the trial they had on television? This was a mockery. The judge didn’t even listen to the complaints about the torture, including the admission of the doctor. And why did they put it on television; don’t our children see enough every night? Did you see how the camera zoomed in when they announced the sentence? How can we have a normal society when mothers disavow their sons on television? And then they replay the trial and executions as if it were an Oscar-winning film or something.
"Maybe the whole idea is to deter others," I tried to defend.
"These kids had no idea what they are doing, they got NIS 2,000 and a girl for taking a picture of gunmen who were parading on the streets in front of everyone. They don’t deserve to be executed," said Issa, a member of my staff. He also pointed out the fact that those accused were very young – 18 or 19, saying it was wrong to kill them.
Issa’s argument was not only about their age but also that those who were accused of collaboration and executed were simply "small fry." Why not go for the "big fish," those collaborating on a much higher level? They should go after them.
Ata, a former technical member of the negotiating team, had yet another argument. The problem is with the PNA itself. These assassinations are the way for the Palestinian Authority to distance itself from the public accusation that it is deeply involved with the Israelis as regards security coordination, etc.
This argument was further strengthened by Abed, a Fatah activist from the Bethlehem area. He confided to me that senior PA figures have stated that they might have been wrong by letting collaborators off during the last seven years.
But don’t the Oslo Accords forbid executions? I asked. The former negotiator insisted that there is no such wording in the Oslo Accords but it is implicit in many parts of the agreement. Anyway, the entire accords are considered null and void since Israel has not honored many of its clauses and the deadlines, that are an integral part of it, have long elapsed.
Abed however, tried to explain the dilemma of the PNA.
If the PNA didn’t get involved we would have moved further and further into a tribal war. "[Hussein] Abayat’s family is very big and they would not be quiet until they avenge the killing of their son," Abed said, referring to the Fatah leader who was assassinated in the middle of the day by an Israeli helicopter as he was driving in Beit Sahur.
For me, however, the most important argument against the executions was the failure of the PNA to have warned people properly about probable consequences to such behavior. Even though the minister of justice has now issued a public warning, many feel that is not fair to carry out justice retroactively.
There is no doubt that the young Palestinians who were executed were clearly scapegoats.
They are yet one more reason why this crazy situation should not be allowed to continue and a just peace must prevail.
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