PLO Said to OK Killing of Arab Collaborators

Times Staff Writer

Officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization abroad have given formal approval to the killing of Arabs accused of collaborating with Israel in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, pro-PLO Palestinian sources say.

In separate conversations held during the past week in Jerusalem and in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus, activists defended the slaying of suspected collaborators as a measure needed to assure continuation of the Arab uprising against Israeli rule in the occupied areas. They claim that Israeli intelligence inroads, spearheaded by collaborators, have resulted in numerous arrests and ambushes and put key figures in the underground leadership at risk.

Final OK From Tunisia

The militants described an elaborate process of ad hoc trials and “sentences” passed on collaborators, a process by which secret Palestinian “courts” consider testimony as well as confessions extracted in clandestine prisons. Conclusions are sent to Tunisia, where the PLO is headquartered, for final approval before punishment is meted out.


In exceptional cases, when the collaborator is well-known, Palestinians dispense with the secret proceedings and stop short of involving the PLO. In one such case last Friday, Kamel Saleh abu Zand was shot to death in the main square of Nablus for having been a chief informer while serving a long jail term. He had been on the streets only two weeks after being freed.

A member of a self-styled “hit team” walked up to Abu Zand in broad daylight, witnesses said, tapped him on the shoulder and told him, “The revolution has condemned you to death.” He then shot Abu Zand twice in the head with a pistol and escaped into a maze of alleys in Nablus’ old central neighborhood.

“It was absolutely necessary that he be liquidated publicly,” a source close to the underground leadership said. “The people must see justice being done and authority being asserted.”

During the last 15 days, 11 accused collaborators have been “executed” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has been the worst outbreak of Arab violence directed against Arabs during the entire intifada, as the uprising is called in Arabic.

The killings were seized upon by Israeli officials as proof that the PLO is wedded to terror and keeps a foothold in the West Bank and Gaza only through threats of assassination. Israel has been trying to persuade the Bush Administration to break off its dialogue with the PLO.

“There is a wave of terror,” Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said. “Not a day passes without people being killed who are suspected of not being 100% supporters of the PLO line. People are burned alive, people are knifed, people are shot.”

Arens blames the violence for the rejection by Palestinian leaders of Israel’s plan to hold elections in the occupied areas. Last week, 83 Palestinian leaders signed a document rejecting the plan. They said the proposal was unacceptable because it did not include a guarantee of eventual independence.


‘Knew’ of Likely Fate

Arens asserted that the signers “knew that if their names weren’t put at the bottom of that piece of paper, they might suffer” a fate similar to that of accused collaborators.

Israeli intelligence sources say that their supply of informants for the Shin Bet, which runs a spy network in the West Bank and Gaza, shrunk during the first months of the intifada but has been restored through recruitment over time. The only problem now, they insist, is that--with the persistence of the uprising--they need more information from a pool of helpers that, at best, is growing no larger.

Palestinians reject Arens’ suggestion that the killings are aimed at politically silencing Arabs.

“These are pure and simple cases of security. The collaborators provide names to the Israelis, they tell them about the organizations of the uprising. In short, they spy on their own people,” said Ziad abu Amer, a pro-PLO political science professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah. “There is no national liberation movement in the world that tolerates activity that endangers its very existence.”

Added a street organizer in Ramallah: “No one is killed for the sake of killing. There is enough evidence. The collaborators are warned two, three times. This is not political assassination.”

At least 32 accused collaborators have been killed in the nearly 17 months of the intifada. Since Jan. 1, 18 have been “executed” by a variety of means.

Victims’ Bodies Found

Last week, Ribhi Bani Odeh, 22, was found in a field near the West Bank village of Tamoun beaten fatally around the head. Palestinians said he informed directly on Arab activities to Israel intelligence agents. Fayek Arar, 38, accused of arranging land sales to the Israelis, was killed by gunfire when he answered the door of his home in the village of Ras Atiya.


Azzam Kadi, 21, was found in an abandoned room in Nablus’ central Old City axed to death; he was accused of being an informant.

Three of the killings, including the Nablus slaying of Abu Zand, were of former inmates suspected of informing while in jail.

Palestinian sources in Nablus assert that Abu Zand was a “bird,” an informer who wins the confidence of Palestinian prisoners and gets them to talk, thinking that he is in sympathy with them.

“After we are interrogated, we are thrown into cells with other Palestinians. Sometimes, we think we are among friends and we begin to talk,” said a former prisoner in Nablus. “We make a mistake and give a name. And the bird sings to the Israelis.”

The system of “courts” has grown up in the last few months and is a means of asserting the authority of intifada leaders in towns and villages as well as formally judging cases of collusion with Israelis, Palestinian sources said.

Procedure Described

Written accusations are passed around to Palestinian lawyers for their opinions. If the collaborator himself is questioned, his testimony is also circulated. When the lawyers make a recommendation, it is passed to the underground intifada leadership. The leadership passes a sentence which is communicated to the PLO for formal approval.


Sometimes, “court documents” are provided; in one case, a videotaped confession was sent to Tunisia.

“With the PLO involved, we avoid the problem of groups disagreeing over sentences. The PLO takes responsibility and unity is maintained,” said one activist.

The “hit teams,” which are the undercover authority in many neighborhoods and villages, carry out the sentences. There are sentences less than the maximum; two weeks ago, a prostitute in Nablus was raped and brutally beaten after being accused of passing information to the Israeli authorities and attempting to blackmail women in her charge to follow suit.

Over the weekend, vandals burned the front door of the house of Hassan Tawil, the Israeli-appointed mayor of El Bireh, next door to Ramallah. After the incident, Tawil said he was going to resign, but he later withdrew the resignation, according to Reuters news service. He has been the target of numerous attacks during the intifada.

Some Palestinians fear that the upsurge of killings might set off intra-Arab violence that would weaken the intifada from within. But they say that the multiple warnings given suspects allays suspicions that the death sentences are the result of mere feuds.

“Even families are informed,” said one member of a “hit team” in Nablus.