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A Hamas parade in Gaza on June 27, 2014
A Hamas parade in Gaza on June 27, 2014
Serge Dumont

GAZA — Days after Israel's "elimination" of four senior Hamas commanders, the "hunt for traitors" is in full swing inside the Islamic organization. At least 24 suspected "collaborators with Israel" have already been executed, but the hunt continues.

The same happened for several weeks in 2009, immediately after Operation Cast Lead. It led to the hasty trials of 32 supposed "traitors," among them a 15-year-old. In 2012, shortly after Israeli forces killed Ahmad Jabari, operational commander of the Hamas armed wing known as the al-Qassam Brigades, several other people were shot dead. The body of one of them was dragged at full speed through the streets of Gaza City by a motorbike.

The "eliminations" carried out in the last days of the recent Operation Protective Edge, in particular the assassination of Hamas financial chief Muhammad al-Ghoul — killed Sunday in an airstrike — demonstrate that Shin Bet (Israel’s interior security agency) and Aman (its military intelligence) have access to first-hand information. These are collected by technological means, but also by collaborators on the ground.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Shin Bet has been recruiting thousands of well-integrated Palestinians who know their environment, but only a few dozen have been discovered. "Generally, those that Hamas brands as "traitors' before shooting them dead in public are not part of our informants because they are always where nobody expects them to be," explains Lior Akerman, a former Shin Bet senior official. "They have first-hand tips and they're generally beyond suspicion."

In the early 1980s, in addition to the "moles" who infiltrated Palestinian organizations, some 2,000 machtapim (Hebrew for collaborators) operating in the Gaza Strip were among the "Village Leagues," a sort of militia that acted as a stand-in organization for the occupying authorities by engaging in trafficking and extortions.

But why do these Palestinians choose to become collaborators? "Because I prefer democracy to terrorism," replies 36-year-old Soufian (not his real name). This short black-haired man is a former hoodlum from the region of Nablus, in the West Bank, having left his parents' home when he was a teenager. Now retired, he claims to have helped the Israeli army arrest wanted Hamas leaders and "saved lives" by preventing attacks. "It's true that I was paid for it," he says. "But I put my life in danger for years. Compared to that, money doesn't mean anything."

Soufian is mum about how he was recruited. But the circumstances suggests that Shin Bet intervened to have an Israeli criminal investigation against him dropped. In exchange for his services, of course.

Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations regularly denounce alleged Shin Bet blackmail against vulnerable Palestinians as a means of obtaining information. Among those targeted are also Gazans who wish to apply to foreign universities, relatives of prisoners who want to be able to visit them in Israeli jails, or others who with loved ones in need of hospital treatment.

Some Palestinians also claim to have been contacted directly by phone, and even by email or Facebook. And yet, the sources "fished" in that manner or by coercion are rarely reliable. "They always drop you the first chance they get, even if you give them money," says "Captain Danny," a former Shin Bet officer turned private detective in Tel Aviv.

"Of all the collaborators I had to deal with, the most efficient were those who acted in full knowledge and were not greedy. Of course, they betrayed their relatives and loved ones for money, but they were no mercenaries. They knew what they were doing and were aware of the risks."

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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