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Yousef Al-Helou is a Palestinian journalist and correspondent for The Real News Network based in Gaza-Palestine & London. His work has been featured in a variety of media outlets including BBC, GRN, CBC Radio Canada, TV New Zealand, UN Observer, Reuters Institute, Middle East Monitor, Press TV, Al-Etejah TV, Maan News Network, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, PNN among many others. Yousef is a Reuters journalist fellow and a UN fellow as well and took part in many speaking tours in the UK/Ireland about his work experience, reporting in a war zone. Yousef covered the infighting between Fatah and Hamas as well as the two Israeli wars on Gaza in late 2008/early 2009 and late 2012, arrival of siege-breaking boats and many other major events since 2006. Yousef runs Gaza TV News page on Facebook that has more than 49,000 followers. Currently he is working on his research about the rise of citizen journalists in Gaza and their impact of public perception of Palestine in the West.
YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: Following the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza that ended eight days of war last November, both sides are engaged in what is known as the "war of brains".Tranquility prevails in the coastal tiny strip. Perhaps this is a good time for Hamas-run Interior Ministry, which has announced a new amnesty campaign and rehabilitation programs for collaborators in Gaza spying for Israel, to turn themselves in and take advantage of the amnesty offer. Since it took control of Gaza in 2007, one of the priorities of the Hamas-run government especially for internal security, is to work hard to combat the phenomenon of collaboration.The Real News talked to the spokesperson of the Interior Ministry in Gaza, who said that the phenomenon of collaboration is small, but many have been arrested and others have turned themselves in. He added that these collaborators pose a real danger to the unity of the Palestinian people and their resistance against Israel, which has sealed off the narrow coastal enclave by land, sea, and air.According to the Interior Ministry, some of the suspected collaborators were accused of aiding Israel in the late 2008 war, in which 1,417 Palestinians, including 281 children were killed, as well as in the late 2012 war, in which 186, including 47 children, were also killed in addition to hundreds who were wounded.ISLAM SHAHWAN, SPOKESPERSON, GAZA INTERIOR MINISTRY (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): The enemy is trying constantly to recruit new collaborators in order to penetrate our internal front. But our security officers are working around the clock to counter the Zionist espionage measures. We are conducting awareness campaigns to protect our security and internal front. We still offer amnesty to those who turn themselves in, and we keep their identities confidential. Two thousand thirteen will be the year to end the phenomenon of collaborators.ALHELOU: Rights observers say it is difficult to know if the amnesty and rehabilitation programs violate international humanitarian law, since it is unclear whether the participants are being detained against their will. They say there is reason for concern. However, the Hamas-run military courts that hand down death sentences for collaborators are widely accused of denying defendants access to legal representation.SAMEER ZAQOUT, AL-MEZAN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): The phenomenon of collaborators in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza, is a real problem, especially in light of the absence of applying human rights and justice, because most of the alleged collaborators who have been arrested so far by the Hamas-run interior security do not enjoy their basic rights. Therefore human rights groups are always concerned about the safety and rights of these people who are subjected to inhumane interrogation. In many cases, many spies were caught red-handed possessing high-tech equipment. But the vast majority were convicted without solid evidence. Most of them are referred to a judicial system that was formed in a way that is against the Palestinian basic law, given that this judicial system was formed by a government that is affiliated to one political party, and the lawyer, judge, police, and interrogators are all from the same political party. Therefore many human rights groups boycotted this new judicial system that was formed in Gaza in the past few years after Hamas came to power.SHAHWAN: Collaborators are treated according to Palestinian law. They are referred to military courts, have access to lawyers, and they can appeal. Sometimes death sentence verdicts are reconsidered, and instead receive prison sentences.ALHELOU: Some experts say that recruiting new Palestinian collaborators does not mean that Israel suffers from the lack of information, as reconnaissance drones and high-tech equipments are used to gather information, in addition to spies who are covert and still active. But Israel always seeks to gather and update information.FATHEY SABBAH, PALESTINIAN COMMUNICATION AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): It's true that there were achievements by the government in Gaza to fight this phenomenon. But since the communication between the spy and the Israeli intelligence is conducted individually, this means that there are still many unknown and covert collaborators. I think the phenomenon of collaborators is an old one that existed a long time ago in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and it is a very dangerous phenomenon. The government in Gaza says collaboration has declined shapely due to its campaigns to crackdown on collaborators, but I doubt it has decreased. I think the techniques and high technology used by the Israeli intelligence to communicate with the collaborators make it very difficult to uncover these spies.ALHELOU: Despite Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza in late 2005, it still maintains its full control over Gaza's air space, territorial waters, and border crossings, except the Rafah crossing. It practices a policy of using blackmail against some travelers, including patients, passing via the Erez Crossing that links Gaza with the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, by asking them to collaborate and give information about the activities of Palestinian resistance groups or individuals.ZAQOUT: Israel exploited and still exploits its control over Gaza's border crossings to recruit more collaborators by blackmailing Gazan patients seeking medical care at hospitals inside Israel or the West Bank. We have documented many cases by collecting testimonies from patients who were refused exit by the Israeli army after they refused to collaborate with the Israeli intelligence service. This treatment is against international law, and the international community is complicit for not intervening to stop this way of humiliation and human rights violations.SHAHWAN: The Zionist enemy suffered a serious blow during the 2009 and 2012 wars on Gaza, as he was not able to gather information, due to difficulties communicating with the collaborators on the ground. The enemy did not spare any effort to recruit new collaborators, including women, using new different and even old methods, for instance through blackmailing patients at the Erez Crossing or by communicating with some people via email or mobile phones pretending to be calling from international NGO's abroad offering to help. The enemy even targets some local journalists and some media companies by pretending to be an international media outlet and then asks them to do some reports on specific topics in exchange for a big amount of money.ALHELOU: During the eight-day war, six Palestinians who were suspected of spying for Israel were kidnapped from their prison and killed by masked gunmen, who then chained the body of one of the alleged collaborators to a motorcycle and dragged them throughout the main streets of Gaza City. Following the incident, Mousa Abu Marzouq, Hamas's deputy leader, condemned what he described [as] the unlawful killing, adding that punishing collaborators, and especially those involved in the killing of leaders of Palestinian resistance groups, must only be carried out in accordance with the law and through the legal procedures.SHAHWAN: We have said clearly to all international and local human rights organizations that we are against the inhumane way of how those people were killed. It was an uncivilized way and it was a grave violation. Our ministry conducted an official investigation and we found out the perpetrators and we applied punitive measures against them.ALHELOU: The Real News talked to the father and wife of one of the collaborators who was executed. The family says that they have not been updated about the results of the investigation.WIFE OF EXECUTED COLLABORATOR (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): My husband spent three years in prison. The manner in which he was killed and dragged was inhumane. How would his three daughters and two sons feel when they grow up and see the footage?ABU REBHI BADAWI, FATHER OF EXECUTED COLLABORATOR (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): My son was accused of being a collaborator. We were shocked when we saw the footage of our son along five others executed and dragged in the streets by motorcyclists. We are still waiting to hear the results of the committee that was formed to investigate who killed him in that way and who gave the order.ALHELOU: These families have bitter feelings, as they don't want to be associated with the stigma of having a family member seen or accused of being a collaborator.Although Palestinian law permits capital punishment for those convicted of collaborating with Israel, death sentences must be ratified by the president of the Palestinian Authority. But that authority is not recognized by Hamas in light of the prolonged split.As the anti-espionage campaign aims to cleanse Israel's alleged spies through giving them the chance to turn themselves in or face arrest and a possible death sentence handed down in a military court, the hidden war between Israel and Hamas is continuing despite the ceasefire agreement.Yousef Alhelou reporting for The Real News, Gaza.
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