In a Limbo Worse Than Hell

He supplied Israel with information. And he doesn't want to live with `the Arabs'

Y.J. is supposed to be on trial tomorrow at a court in the center of the country, but he won't show up. Although the prosecution (the state) promised at an earlier session that it did not intend to demand his immediate expulsion to the Gaza Strip, he doesn't believe it.

He suspects that a wicked plot has been woven against him and he is afraid to appear in court and find himself trundled into a police vehicle, from which he will be thrown out at the Erez checkpoint to "the Arabs," as he puts it. "The terrorists," he remembers to say, meaning the Arabs, the Palestinians, "would always tell us that the Jews would squeeze us like a lemon and then throw us in the garbage."

Now Y.J., who claims that he worked in the service of Israeli security organizations since 1986, from the time he was 23, says the "terrorists'" description was absolutely right. He definitely feels like a lemon that has been squeezed and discarded.

Y.J., a native of the Gaza Strip, has been staying in Israel without a permit since 1997, after having received work permits for years. He suspects that someone in the Palestinian security service informed someone in the Israeli Shin Bet security service that he presents a security risk, to keep him out of Israel. There is some basis for his suspicions: During the period of good relationships between the security services on the two sides, this was a known trick of the Palestinian security organizations. If someone was in their crosshairs, for internal Palestinian reasons, they gave false information about him to their Israeli colleagues so he would not be able to leave the Gaza Strip. Since then, he has been denied permits to work in Israel. For four-and-a-half years now he has been living in Israel without a residence permit.

In the meantime, he met a Jewish Israeli woman, whom he married in a Sharia court, and he says he has divorced his wife in Gaza (where his five children live, and are shunned because of their father).

Y.J. is one of many - there are those who say many thousands - small informers who over the years have given information to Israel about relatively minor criminal and security matters. They receive payment commensurate to the information they give. They are not officially registered as collaborators, and the minor nature of what they do does not entitle them to official papers, which would have automatically obligated Israel to pay them a regular stipend. If Israel were to recognize all of them, and its obligation to them, it would have to pay out huge sums of money. Their situation has grown worse since the renewal of the bloody conflict in October, 2000.

They can no longer come and go with the Israeli work permits they had been issued in the past. The anger in Palestinian society at the major collaborators - who are protected by the Israeli papers they have received and the great wealth they have accumulated - and the anger at the anonymous individuals who have helped and are helping Israel with the Israel Defense Forces' "liquidations," and the impotence the Palestinians feel, are making the minnows among the veteran informers ever more exposed and vulnerable.

Attorney Ronen Cohen, whose firm represents collaborators in dealings with the Israeli authorities, estimates that thousands of informers are now residing in Israel without permits, afraid to go home for fear of society's revenge or of what remains of the Palestinian security mechanisms. Thus, on the one hand the Israeli authorities turn a blind eye and generally do not harass people who are staying in Israel without permits, says Cohen. On the other hand, these people have no rights nor papers; they do not even have a driver's license, not to mention health insurance for themselves and their children.

Vanished identity card

But for some reason, Y.J. has been harassed. All of a sudden, last August 8, at 10 P.M, as he was watching television in his home in one of the cities on the coastal plain, four policemen entered his apartment. You are suspected of illegal residency, they said to him. "How much have the Arabs paid you to throw me to the wolves?" he says he asked the police.

His wife, B.S., immediately called his controller, Y., an intelligence officer in the Border Police. He reportedly immediately contacted the police station and demanded that Y.J. not be placed in the same cell with "members of the minority groups." On the basis of assurances from his controllers that he was not a danger to the public and that they knew him, and in accordance with the request of his lawyer, the court decided to release him on bail and place him under full house arrest. Since then, he has fired his lawyer who, he says, "abandoned" him.

Now he is facing another difficulty: He says that during his arrest, his identity card was taken away from him and was mysteriously lost between the jailhouse and the court. He is also unable to renew it (it can be renewed only in the Gaza Strip). "They're playing sophisticated bureaucratic tricks on me, to get rid of me and my rights," he claims.

"I didn't grow up with Arabs," is how he explains his emotional state, in very good Hebrew. From an early age, he went out to work with his father in agriculture and construction, in Israel. "I linked my life to the fate of the Jews. If they move them to South Africa, I'll go with them. If they throw them into the sea, I'll be thrown in with them."

He has grown so accustomed to life in Israel, ever since he was young, that he is not even aware of the fact that he has the status of a refugee, registered with UNWRA. His parents are refugees. They were born in the Negev in the 1930s, and in 1948 the battles and the forces caused them to flee to the Gaza Strip. On their identity cards, it says they were born in "Israel." This is written on the identity card of every refugee in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who was born before 1948, prior to the establishment of the state. But Y.J. brandishes his parents' papers and says: Look, they were born in Israel. They are Israelis. Y.J. is not impressed if someone calls him a "traitor."

"I'm not a traitor because I don't have a state to betray. I opened my eyes in the State of Israel. I grew up in Israel."

Y.J. does not reveal the circumstances that led him to begin to give information to the Israeli police, about everything that went on among the Gazans who were staying in the area of Rishon Letzion (in security matters and, according to him, criminal matters - drugs, robberies, car thefts). He had some run-in with the law, said the lawyer he fired during one of the court sessions, which are filmed. Cohen says this is likely: Many people were enlisted as informers from within the prisons, where they had gone for all kinds of criminal activities. Y.J. himself relates that as a result of information he gave about Palestinians who engaged in crime, "Some of them have been arrested and tried, some of them have been released and some of them have been enlisted as informers."

With the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, Y.J. says he began to work for the Shin Bet. He does not volunteer details about the kind of work he did for it during that period of uprising against the Israeli occupation.

When asked whether they killed anyone on the basis of his information, his reply is: "No." How does he know? "I don't know, but I'm sure no one was killed."

He says he had nothing to do with "big fish." In Gaza, he says, "they knew I was an informer, but not for certain. I suspected someone and I told the Shin Bet, and they sent other people to check it out."

Have you ever hidden with your face covered in a car of an IDF unit disguised as Palestinians, for example, and pointed out specific individuals?

Y.J. replies grudgingly: "Yes."

He also does not want to speak about the payment he received from the Shin Bet. He was paid once a month, he says, at a meeting with his controller. "I can't remember how much I got. It's been a long time." His friend, also a collaborator, who was present during this conversation, taunted him: "So all of a sudden you can't remember anything?" And Y.J. said: NIS 300, maybe NIS 400. Finally he made it NIS 500. "I got NIS 500 at every meeting."

According to him, when it turned out that at the same time he was also working for the police, the Shin Bet decided to discontinue its connection with him - the usual competition between security organizations. He worked with the police until the Palestinian Authority was set up in 1994. With the work permits he had, he continued to go in and out of the Gaza Strip.

Tortured by the PA

In 1998 he was summoned for questioning by the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. He was held in jail for two months, he says, and badly tortured. "They broke three of my ribs. They tied me up, they abused me, they didn't bring me cigarettes, they poured soapy water on the floor so that I'd slip, they suspended me by my hands for several minutes, they walked all over my body and they beat me with everything that came to hand."

He nearly died, and his interrogators hastened to send him to the infirmary, but they made him report to the police station every day. He heard, he says, about a Jew from one of the farming communities in the area who smuggled Gazans into Israel: He had a large refrigerator truck, and for NIS 1,500 a head he would hide people in it and bring them over to the other side. That is how Y.J. got out, he says. The first thing he did when he got back to Israel was to inform his controllers of the details of the man who had smuggled him in. Another time, friends from Gaza contacted him, seeking help for two who had managed to slip into Israel. He gave the authorities the details of where they were. In recent years, he says, he has engaged mainly in locating illegal residents in Israel. Every location mission takes two weeks. He did this diligently until he himself was arrested for illegal residence.

After he escaped from Gaza, he put up a shack for himself in an Arab locale in Israel. Someone burned it down. He received anonymous threats over the telephone. The police and Border Police coordinators who controlled him promised, he says, to arrange residence permits for him, for his children and for his ex-wife. He waited in vain. He says the coordinators are always prepared to help, but their superiors refuse. Later, after he married B.S., they told him it was better for him to get an identity card through "family reunification" and that they would help him. He keeps copies of dozens of letters he has written to every possible Israeli authority, including the President's Bureau, asking for someone to intervene on his behalf.

He also turned for help to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories, back in July 2002, before he was arrested. In a letter of reply to B'Tselem from "The Bureau for Public Requests and Complaints at the Ministry of Defense," it states that Y.J. had helped the police between 1993 and 1999, that he had not been a Shin Bet collaborator and that "the aforementioned has a negative criminal and security background." In the letter, it is also stated: "The Commission on Threatened Individuals is opposed to granting him permits to live in Israel."

Now, since he has been placed under house arrest, the Commission on Threatened Individuals, which is at the Office of the Coordinator in the Territories is again dealing with Y.J. Cohen says that this is the committee that deals with "those thousands of very small collaborators, who according to the criteria of the security system are not entitled to the administrative attentions of the Administration for the Rehabilitation of Collaborators."

The criteria for entitlement are secret, which makes it difficult for lawyers like Cohen to represent their clients. "I would venture to say," says Cohen with the dryness he has acquired from years of observing the attitude of the security authorities toward the Palestinians of whose services they use, "that if they reveal that someone is entitled to get a tent, it will be possible to conclude that he had reported that his neighbor had scrawled slogans, and if he is entitled to a villa, it is possible to guess that he had handed the [booby-trapped] telephone to Yihya Ayyash."

Applications may be made to the Commission on Threatened Individuals for very temporary residence permits. "There are people who are dependent on this, on getting temporary permits, for years and years," says Cohen. "They extend the permits, and some of the time they don't extend them, and when they are arrested, someone sees to it that they are released,"

The family reunification process - for Palestinians married to Israeli women - was stopped in March, 2002. After the terror attack at the Matza Restaurant in Haifa, when it turned out the suicide bomber held an Israeli identity card (because his mother is Israeli), then interior minister Eli Yishai ordered a freeze on the work dealing with family reunification. In May, 2002, the government ordered the Interior Ministry to prepare a new, tougher procedure for family reunification. But no target date was set for establishing the procedures, says Cohen.

Among those who have fallen through these cracks are people like Y.J. When Y.J. was arrested in August, friends from Gaza called and related that "all the Palestinian security organizations are waiting for him at Erez, competing among themselves as to who will arrest him." This report is enough to cause him to violate the conditions of his house arrest and not show up for his trial.

A spokesman for the Border Police has responded that "we do not customarily either deny or confirm things that have to do with operational methods of running agents."