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How Israel builds its fifth column

Palestinian collaborators face mob justice, and fuel a culture of suspicion

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Hani knew it was wrong.

But the young Palestinian says he couldn't resist the woman who seduced him in a field near his house two years ago. And he never suspected what was to come.

In the middle of the tryst, the couple was ambushed by Israeli security agents who told Hani (not his real name) that his wife would be informed of the infidelity unless he cooperated. He says he now suspects he was set up, but he admits he was an easy target – wanted for a raft of petty crimes and a wallet full of fake identity cards. Within days he had agreed to trade his freedom for life as a collaborator.

Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip many thousands of Palestinians like Hani have been successfully coopted as informers. Precise numbers of those on Israel's payroll are unknown but figures of up to 15,000 have been suggested by human rights groups.

Israel's use of informants has prevented numerous suicide bombings. Yet in addition to enhancing Israeli security, collaboration has also developed a culture of suspicion such that anyone who runs a successful business or has access to hard-to-get permits is often suspected.

In Hani's case, the motivation was fear, not greed. "I agreed to work with them in return for clemency," he says. "I agreed to help them solve cases involving theft and drug dealing."

Last year Hani says his Israeli supervisor contacted him and asked that he watch two men from his West Bank village – one a member of Hamas, and the other from Fatah. "I didn't want to do it but he said that he merely wanted to know their movements," Hani says. "I gave away extensive information about them. But fear came over me that they planned to do more than just monitor them. I saw on television how Israel was assassinating people and how they went after them methodically. I came to the conclusion I was helping this to happen and I ran away."

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