Monday, 3 November, 2003|
Face-to-face with Tulkarm executioners
By Orla Guerin
BBC correspondent in Tulkarm
In the Middle East, there is concern about the growing numbers of Palestinians being hunted down and killed — not by the Israeli army but by their own friends and neighbours.
The executioners say they taped the collaborators' confessions
The latest to die were two young men shot dead in the refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarm after being accused of collaborating with the Israeli army.
Palestinian human rights workers say more than 70 suspected collaborators have died in vigilante killings over the past three years.
Tulkarm has a ring of Israeli troops around the outside. And on the inside, it seems that Palestinians suspected of collaborating can expect no law and no justice from their own brothers.
Posters of dead Palestinian militants line the walls of the dusty backstreets of the refugee camp in the town.
We're taken to see a man who issued a death sentence and made sure it was carried out.
Sitting in front of me in a bare family home inside the camp is the local commander of the al-Aqsa brigades. A thinly bearded man, he calls himself Abu Amsha.
"What gave you the right to decide that these two men should be killed?" I ask him.
"The two collaborators, Mohammed and Samir, killed seven Palestinians because they gave information to the Israelis which led to assassinations. They were following me — I was going to be next," the commander answers.
"The guys brought them to the camp," he continues after being asked how the two collaborators died.
"We put them on their knees. We fired at their heads and then at their bodies. That's how Mohammed and Samir were executed."
"How do we know you didn't torture them — make them say anything you wanted?" I ask the commander.
"From the minute we kidnapped Mohammed, a guy sat with him just holding a gun. We all drank tea. Mohammed admitted what he had done immediately and we taped his confession," Abu Amsha says.
But Mohammed's family claim that he was tortured into making that confession in the 21 days that he was held.
They have photographs they want to show me which they say were taken after they recovered his body.
The first photograph is of the back of Mohammed's legs. They're covered in marks, there's blood and some scars.
"They put metal rods in the fire and then they stuck them into his legs," Mohammed's mother, Masoosa, says.
"They melted plastic and dropped it onto his body to burn him. Mohammed was in the al-Aqsa brigades with these other guys. Then he got promoted and they got jealous — that's why they killed him," she says.
"Do you ever feel a sense of guilt about people that have been recruited when you know what could happen to them?" I ask Moshe Govati — a special adviser to Israel's interior minister and former commander of the Israeli army in the West Bank.
"Why we should feel like this?" Mr Govati says.
"If he wants money, he gets his money. If he had some political ideology, it's his decision. If we succeeded to blackmail him because we could do it — well he knows why," he adds.
"So you think they get what they deserve?" I press on.
"For myself, if I were Palestinian, I would hate them to death," Mr Govati says.
"But I'm an Israeli and I'm threatened every moment by the Palestinians all over the country.
"But you have to understand that once a Palestinian got the decision to collaborate with the Israeli agencies, he knows that maybe he will not die as an old man. He is a traitor — I need him — but he's a traitor".
Back in the refugee camp in Tulkarm it may not take too long before someone else is gunned down in the streets.
The men of the al-Aqsa brigades here have told us they are "investigating another collaborator and that he'll probably be dead within days".