Updated Monday, December 3, 2012 at 06:31 AM
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — When Fadel Shalouf's family went to pick up his body at the morgue the day after he was executed on a busy Gaza street corner, they found his hands still cuffed behind his back. Hamas, the extremist faction that rules Gaza, did not provide a van to carry the body to burial, so they laid him on two men's laps in the back of a sedan.
Shalouf, his family insists, was an illiterate fisherman with a knack for designing kites when he was arrested by Gaza's internal security service. Yet he was convicted in a Hamas court in January 2011 of providing Israel with information that led to the 2006 assassination of Abu Attaya, commander of the Popular Resistance Committees.
During last month's intense eight-day battle with Israel, the military wing of the Hamas government brutally and publicly put an end to Shalouf, 24, and six other suspected collaborators. The vigilante-style killings by masked gunmen — with one body dragged through a Gaza City neighborhood by motorcycle and another left for crowds to gawk over in a traffic circle — highlighted the plight of collaborators, pawns preyed on by both sides in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For Israel, despite its advanced technology for tracking terrorists, human sources remain an essential intelligence tool that allows for pinpoint strikes like the one that felled Ahmed al-Jabari, operations commander of Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades, at the start of the recent escalation. To Hamas, they are the enemy within, and vigorous prosecution plus the occasional high-profile lynching are powerful psychological tools to enforce loyalty and squelch dissent.
Former intelligence officials and experts on the phenomenon said many collaborators are struggling souls who are blackmailed into service by an Israeli government with great leverage over their lives. Some are enlisted when they apply for permits to seek medical treatment in Israel, for example, or in exchange for better conditions or early release from Israeli jails. Others are threatened with having behavior shunned in their religious Islamic communities — alcohol use, perhaps, or adultery — exposed.
Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency, said Palestinian collaborators might be given money for expenses or a small salary, but "you'll never be a rich guy."
Collaboration has underpinned Israeli-Palestinian relations since before there was a modern state of Israel, dating back at least to the Jewish underground that operated during the British Mandate era in the 1930s. The Oslo Accords signed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 1994 even made two villages — one in Gaza, one in the West Bank — safe refuges for about 1,500 Bedouin suspected of spying.
Some in Hamas and more extremist groups consider the Palestinian Authority to be aiding the enemy when it coordinates security services in the West Bank with Israel. Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after winning elections, members of the rival Fatah faction who live here have almost universally been under suspicion. Selling land to Jews can be punishable by death.
But while experts on both sides estimated that 1,000 suspected collaborators were killed — mostly in summary justice — between 1987, the start of the first Palestinian intifada, and 1994, human-rights groups have documented a relative handful of cases since. Of 106 death sentences imposed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-run courts since 1995, according to B'tselem, a leading Israeli human-rights organization, 40 were for collaboration; through September, six of those had been executed.
Last month's extrajudicial slayings — all seven men had been tried and convicted but several, including Shalouf, had appeals pending — were an echo of the public execution of at least a dozen collaborators who escaped from Hamas jails bombed during Israel's last offensive in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, in 2008-2009. But they were a stark departure from Hamas' efforts since then to pursue collaborators in court and not the street, spotlighting its dilemma as a movement rooted in militant resistance now trying to run a government.
The Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military arm, claimed credit for the killings, but some party leaders condemned them. Issam Younis, director of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, said he met Thursday with the Hamas justice minister and was convinced the executions were being investigated and their perpetrators would be punished.