A WAVE of revulsion has met the recent sharp rise in incidents of Palestinians killing other Palestinians accused of cooperation with Israel or of disreputable behavior. Palestinians fear the runaway violence could impose a reign of terror on their society and undermine the 20-month uprising against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
By mid-August, 91 alleged ``collaborators'' had been killed by fellow Palestinians since the outbreak of the intifadah (uprising) in December 1987, according to Israeli army statistics. Over half of the slayings occurred in the last three months, according to unofficial tolls.
Defense officials believe only a small number of those killed were actually informers for the Israeli intelligence services. Most who were slain had other ties with Israel, were involved in personal feuds, or violated moral codes.
Samer Kamal was known in Nablus as an alcoholic and drug user. One night last week, Kamal was taken from his home by masked men, beaten, and burned. The next morning, he died.
Townspeople attributed the assault to Islamic fundamentalists, probably activists of the Islamic Resistance Movement, called Hamas. The beating and torture of Kamal were condemned in the city as inhuman, contrary to Islamic religious dictates, and an unacceptable means of fighting vice and reforming Palestinian society.
The day Kamal died, a teacher, Jamil Taha, was killed at a school in the West Bank village of Bidya. According to some rumors, he was accused of cooperating with the Israeli authorities, or selling land to Israelis, but there has been no statement by activists as to why he was slain, and no consensus on the motive.
This is the most devastating aspect of the killing for the victim's family. Taha's widow, in a television interview, pleaded for a statement from his assailants, or even from the PLO, branding him an informer, so she could know how to respond to the killing. How could she explain to their son why his father was killed? she asked. Taha's brothers said there was no logic to the killing, because the victim had not received any advance warning alleging that he was cooperating with Israel.
The killings of persons not clearly identified as ``collaborators'' makes the violence senseless and arbitrary, Palestinians say, destroying the feeling of common purpose forged during the intifadah. The silence of the PLO about the killings has added to the sense of confusion and loss of direction, and some activists have felt the need to speak out before the uprising drowns in its own blood.
Faisal Husseini, a leading PLO supporter in the West Bank, told the Israeli news agency Itim last week that ``collaborators'' should be given a chance to mend their ways, rather than be summarily executed. ``Persons suspected of cooperating with the authorities should be asked to repent,'' he said. ``They should be persuaded to stop their activities. We should try to maintain the uprising as a `white intifadah' and keep it less violent.''
Mr. Husseini admitted that some persons had settled personal scores under the guise of attacks on ``collaborators,'' and not all the victims were proven informers.
In another expression of concern that the killings were spinning out of control, the latest leaflet of the ``Unified National Leadership of the Uprising'' set down guidelines for action against suspected ``collaborators'':
``The Unified National Leadership calls upon the masses not to eliminate any collaborator without a central decision by the supreme leadership, or without a national consensus about him, and not before he is given advance warning and a chance to repent.''
The statement came after similar instructions in a previous leaflet had gone unheeded. That leaflet had urged activists in ``popular committees'' and ``strike forces'' to ``show careful consideration when issuing verdicts, and avoid resorting to execution except in cases of clear collaboration, following complete verification of the suspicion of treason, and with the approval of the higher authorities.''
The need to prove publicly that the killings are justified led to two recent developments.
At Kafr Zibad, near the West Bank town of Tulkarm, an alleged ``collaborator'' was kidnapped and killed. Activists later issued a leaflet detailing alleged confessions made by the man, and explaining that he had been well-treated in captivity, but died during interrogation. The leaflet was intended to show that the man was not a mistaken target, and had not been willfully killed.
In Nablus this month, activists in makeshift uniforms, their faces obscured by kaffiyehs, read a leaflet signed by the ``Popular Army,'' in which they took responsibility for killing five local men, and listed their ``crimes'' of cooperation with Israel.
There have been other instances where activists have published ``collaboration'' charges against men who have been slain, in order to justify the killings.