The Electronic Intifada / April 12, 2023
On Saturday, the Lions Den, a Palestinian armed resistance group, announced that it had executed a man it accuses of collaboration with Israel.
It is a horrific and disturbing instance of Israel’s longstanding practice of blackmailing Palestinians in desperate circumstances into betraying their own people, and the terrible consequences that follow.
In a brief statement on the messaging app Telegram, the Nablus-based guerilla group addressed the “struggling Palestinian masses.”
Lions Den provided little detail, not even the name of the deceased, but asserted that it would “clarify to the public everything that is necessary at the appropriate time with precise and complete proof, following our completion of certain security measures.”
“And now we address every traitor who sells their religion, their conscience, their honor and their nation,” the group said. “Your activities and your evil have been exposed and we are following you wherever you are. No one can protect you no matter where you hide.”
Separately, video appeared on social networks purporting to be of the collaborator confessing to his cooperation with Israeli occupation forces prior to his execution.
The man, who identifies himself as Zuhair Ghalith, explains that he was blackmailed using a video showing him in a sexual relationship with another Palestinian man, who Ghalith says was an agent of Israel – implying that he was set up.
Under threat of exposure, Ghalith says he agreed to spy on resistance fighters for the Israeli army.
As summarized by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Ghalith explains that the first time he cooperated with Israel, he met with an Israeli officer in the occupied West Bank town of Huwwara who ordered him to follow Adham Mabrouka, an operative of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, and his comrades.
Mabrouka, reportedly a founder of the Lions Den, was extrajudicially executed by an Israeli death squad in Nablus in February 2022, along with two other resistance fighters, Ashraf Mbaslat and Muhammad Dakheel.
Ghalith also claims that information he provided to Israel helped occupation forces kill at least two more resistance fighters last July.
In that instance, he describes being taken by the army to a military base near Huwwara, being dressed in an Israeli military uniform and told to identify the men before an Israeli death squad went out and assassinated them.
Ghalith says the Israelis rewarded him with packets of cigarettes and cash – about $140.
Palestinian human rights organizations were quick to condemn both Ghalith’s alleged treason and his execution.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) said its investigations confirmed that the 23-year-old was executed in the Old City of Nablus by five men who shot him multiple times from close range.
PCHR affirmed that “collaboration with the Israeli occupation constitutes a crime” and that collaborators are Israel’s partners “in war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), as they betray their country, people and families.”
But PCHR also rejected the execution of Ghalith as violating “the right to life and the right to a fair trial, as well as a serious breach of the rule of law.”
PCHR stated that “the proper way” to prosecute suspected collaborators “is through legal procedures and a fair trial” followed by “the appropriate punishment after being convicted before the court in accordance with the law.”
Similarly, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a quasi-official Palestinian organization, asserted that “treason is an unacceptable and heinous crime, whose perpetrator must be subject to exemplary punishment in accordance with the law.”
It rejected the extrajudicial killing of Ghalith and called “on the Palestinian Authority institutions and security agencies to perform their duty and bring to justice those who commit the act of treason.”
It’s hard to disagree with those statements, but from the perspective of resistance fighters whose lives are in the crosshairs of a ruthless enemy occupier, they are not likely to cut much ice.
For one thing, the Palestinian Authority regularly collaborates with Israel against the resistance under the banner of “security coordination.”
A body that was set up to work with the occupier against the resistance is simply not going to bring other collaborators to justice.
The PA’s judiciary is, moreover, highly politicized.
For instance, the trial of 14 low-level officers accused of torturing to death Palestinian Authority critic Nizar Banat in June 2021 has dragged on with endless obstructions and delays and PA higher ups have escaped any accountability at all.
Resistance fighters battling a merciless occupation want to deter treason in the most visible, immediate and visceral manner. In this, Palestinian groups are the norm, not the exception.
French resistance fighters, for example, summarily executed some 9,000 suspected collaborators during their campaign to liberate their country from German occupation.
In apartheid South Africa, resistance groups used the gruesome tactic of necklacing – placing a gasoline-filled tire around the neck of a suspected collaborator and setting it on fire – to punish and deter cooperation with the white supremacist regime.
Even if some have considered such terrible tactics – which have undoubtedly led to the killings of wrongly accused persons – to be necessary, they have often produced profound ambivalence among the oppressed.
A striking example of such ambivalence can be found in a largely sympathetic July 2022 Los Angeles Times article on Ukraine’s efforts to deal with suspected collaborators with Russia – often through summary executions and assassinations.
“For as long as humans have waged war, they have feared the enemy within,” The Los Angeles Times explains. “Collaboration and treason run like dark threads through the tapestry of nearly every wartime narrative, no matter how triumphal: in ancient Greece, in Revolutionary-era America, in Nazi-occupied France.”
The article concludes with words from Ukraine’s president: “Accountability for collaboration is inevitable,” Volodymyr Zelensky is quoted as saying. “Whether it will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow is another question.”
Executions and harsh punishments are not the only way resistance groups deal with collaborators.
The Palestinian resistance organization Hamas – which has executed accused traitors – has also granted amnesty to and claims to have rehabilitated some of those who confessed to working with the enemy.
Nonetheless, summary punishment of suspected collaborators appears to be a consistent and inseparable part of war and liberation struggles.
At least in Palestine, however, executions of collaborators are likely far less common than collaboration and are intended to send a deterrent message.
Whether they do so is impossible to know.
The oppressor’s responsibility
During liberation struggles, those who support the invader or occupier often point to such practices as evidence of the barbarity and lawlessness of the resistance, which thus justifies continuing the oppression or occupation.
In South Africa, the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not shy about holding resistance groups, including the African National Congress, responsible for necklacing – which is estimated to have killed between 400-700 people.
But it pointed to another important truth that seldom receives as much attention.
In its final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that “the role played by the state in compromising many activists and coercing them into becoming informers and askaris [collaborators] resulted in the murders of many activists and community members.”
That certainly applies in Palestine, where Israel regularly exploits the vulnerability of Palestinians in an effort to induce collaboration.
A resident of Nablus told Haaretz that – in the newspaper’s words – Ghalith came from a low-income family and “was blackmailed using a sex tape taken by his partner.”
“It’s a very well-known practice; the [Israeli] security forces take advantage of poor families or gay men, and their need for work permits to enter and work in Israel,” the unnamed resident said.
This is particularly grotesque given how Israel’s pinkwashing propaganda habitually markets it as “gay friendly” and even as a haven for Palestinians who supposedly face all sorts of repression and persecution if they engage in same-sex relations.
In fact, there is no law in Palestine that forbids same-sex relationships.
But like in many places, including Israel, there are strong social taboos about engaging openly and publicly in such relationships, just as there are equally strong or stronger taboos about men and women engaging in premarital or extramarital sexual relationships.
Blackmailing the sick
Israel ruthlessly exploits any and all such situations in order to recruit Palestinian collaborators.
In 2014, whistleblowers from the Israeli army’s notorious Unit 8200 cyber warfare division revealed how they eavesdrop on Palestinians’ personal communications in an effort to find vulnerabilities they can exploit to the benefit of the occupation.
“Any information that might enable extortion of an individual is considered relevant information,” one Israeli spy told The Guardian newspaper.
“Whether said individual is of a certain sexual orientation, cheating on his wife, or in need of treatment in Israel or the West Bank – he is a target for blackmail.”
All of this is unspeakably barbaric and cruel, but perhaps nothing is more so than Israel’s efforts to blackmail Palestinians in Gaza who need to leave the besieged enclave for life-saving medical treatment.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has found that this particular practice satisfies the definition of torture, “as it involves making the provision of medical treatment contingent upon collaboration and preventing medical treatment or threatening to do so from persons who do not collaborate.”
Whatever the specifics may be, the horrific circumstances in which the execution of Ghalith took place are all of Israel’s creation.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)