Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Gaza widow offers glimpse into world of Israel’s spies

'Our life was hell. I used to look over my shoulder when I am out in the market, get scared when I see a police car,' said the widow of her years of feeding Israel information.
Hamas militants grab Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, before executing them in Gaza City on August 22, 2014. Reuters
Hamas militants grab Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, before executing them in Gaza City on August 22, 2014. Reuters

GAZA CITY // Her husband was shot dead in 2012 by militants in the Gaza Strip. His crime – spying for Israel.

The 48-year-old Palestinian mother of seven was herself jailed by Gaza’s Hamas rulers for aiding and abetting her husband.

The widow’s account has offered a rare insight into the secret world of espionage behind the war between Israel and Hamas.

According to her, Israeli security agents took advantage of her late husband’s financial troubles a decade ago, luring him into collaborating with them by offering him a permit to work in Israel. She was recruited later.

“Our life was hell. We were scared,” she said of their years feeding Israel information. “I used to look over my shoulder when I am out in the market, get scared when I see a police car.”

Israel has historically relied on collaborators against Palestinian militants, recruiting them with methods ranging from entrapment and blackmail to cash and perks.

Hamas, in turn, has done whatever it can to stop collaborators, particularly by killing them in public as a deterrent to others.

During the latest war in Gaza, militants gunned down 22 suspected spies after three senior Hamas military operatives were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Palestinians human rights groups have sharply criticised Hamas for carrying out extra-judicial killings.

“It was a terrifying message to society and a deterrent to other collaborators,” Salah Abdel Atti of Gaza’s Independent Commission for Human Rights said.

But rights concerns win little sympathy among Palestinians, who widely see informing for Israel as unforgivable treason – even among Gazans opposed to Hamas’s iron-fisted control of the territory since 2007.

Ramiz Abu Jazar, a Gazan whose brother was killed by Hamas in intra-Palestinian fighting in 2007, is all for killing collaborators. They are “like cancer in society”, he said. “They sold their souls to the devil.”

Some collaborate out of political conviction, but most are believed to do so because of blackmail or financial gain.

Many are recruited at Erez, Israel’s border crossing with Gaza, said an operative for Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet.

On the Gaza side of Erez, a large sign put up by Hamas warns travellers against being recruited by Israel.

Just this week, a Palestinian man was waiting on the Israeli side of the border for his brother, who was held up by border officials, when a uniformed officer approached and promised to help. But he first asked the man dozens of questions about life in Gaza, from the number of factories damaged in the latest war, to the mood on the streets and power supply.

The questioning – casual in tone – lasted about 15 minutes, and the man answered with little hesitation. In the end, the officer insisted on taking the man’s mobile phone number. The brother emerged soon after.

The husband of the widow once worked in Israel at a time when thousands of Gazans were allowed to enter Israel daily for work. But his permit was revoked because of his involvement in a car theft, his wife said.

When he tried to enter Egypt, Israeli security agents stopped him on the Gaza side of the border and offered him his Israel work permit back in exchange for collaboration.

His wife grew suspicious and confronted him, to which he confessed, “I am not hurting anyone. I just give them a phone number, a name or information on a tunnel.”

She joined her husband in collaborating in 2008. An Israeli gave her money to buy presents for her family when she accompanied one of their children who was treated at an Israeli hospital.

Days later, he gave her $14,000 (Dh51,420) with instructions to leave the cash in various drop points around Gaza to pay other informants. “We left money under rocks, in garbage bins and by walls,” she said.

Shortly before their arrest in 2011, her husband received a call from the Israelis, who described a car to him and asked him to head immediately to the main road outside his home to wait for it. When he saw the car, he called the Israelis and reported that two people were in it.

An hour later, Israel bombed the car, killing its occupants – apparently militants.

During the 2012 Israel-Hamas fighting, several senior Hamas figures were killed in an airstrike. Her husband and five alleged collaborators were pulled from prison by masked men and shot to death at a Gaza intersection. The body of at least one of them was dragged through the street by a motorcycle.

The widow herself was sentenced to seven years in prison by a Hamas court. She was released in December to look after her children.

While she did not speak of being harassed because of her conviction, she said: “The neighbours give me insincere smiles, but I know what they are thinking of us.”

She reflected little about the rights or wrongs of working with Israel – showing a mix of denial, a desire to defend her husband’s reputation and a relief that the fear of those years was over.

“My husband was a kind man,” she insisted. “He would never hurt anyone.”

* Associated Press

Updated: September 17, 2014 04:00 AM