David Miller
The Media Line
September 21, 2010 - 12:00am

The arrest of an unknown number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and belligerent statements by Hamas officials have sparked rumors that many of the detainees could be charged with collaborating with Israel, a crime punishable by death.

Human Rights activists and family members of some of the detained men told The Media Line that these detainees have virtually disappeared and haven’t been heard from in weeks.

The Hamas government said it would soon publicize depositions by prisoners confessing they had collaborated with Israel. Ihab Ghossein, a spokesman for Hamas' Interior Ministry, said the confessions would be revealed as soon as security agencies in Gaza had finished collecting the information.

Ghossein also called upon the public to stop spreading rumors on the subject. He said the rumors were "erroneous" and "served the (Israeli) occupation and the enemies of the Palestinian people, who wish to spread confusion on the Palestinian street."

Samir Zaqout, field work coordinator for the Gaza-based human rights organization Al-Mezan, told The Media Line that media obscurity about the arrests contributed to a sense of insecurity in Gaza.

"Since early September, there have been widespread rumors about a large number of detainees," he said. "There has been much exaggeration on the subject. Lack of disclosure from the Interior Ministry is only feeding these rumors."

Zaqout added that some of the alleged collaborators may appear in person in an upcoming press conference.

Three weeks ago, Hamas security forces arrested Dr. Mu'awya Hassanein, head of emergency services in Gaza's Health Ministry. Hassanein's arrest added to a flurry of rumors concerning a wide-spread arrest campaign targeting collaborators with Israel.

"I don't understand where and why they took him," Liliana Hassanein, Mu'away's wife, told The Media Line. "It was a Friday night. At eleven o'clock a group of four or five people entered the house. Two of them were wearing plain clothes. They confiscated my son's laptop computer and my daughter's digital camera."

"Until now I know nothing about his situation," Mrs. Hassanein said. "He is not well. He suffers from high blood pressure and takes medication. I want to visit him and find out what happened. I want to be reassured about his condition."

"We are law abiding citizens," Mrs. Hassanein added. "We're not terrorists."

Asked about the arrest of Dr. Hassanein, Zaqout of the Al-Mezan organization, said he had been told the doctor was arrested for ‘security reasons,’ a euphemism for collaboration with Israel. Yet he cautioned about whether these reports were credible. Palestinians see cooperation with Israeli security as treason since information is often leaked over the location of Hamas figures and/or military supplies which are later targeted by Israel.

Hamdi Shaqura of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, another Gaza-based organization, said a group of doctors and businessmen was allegedly rounded up by Hamas over the past month.

"There are a hundred rumors and nothing is known," Shaqura told The Media Line.

Last April, Hamas executed two Palestinian men following convictions for collaboration with Israel. These executions were the first use of a judicial death penalty in Gaza since Hamas took over the Strip in 2007.

Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch said his organization was worried that detainees accused of collaboration with Israel would not receive a fair trial.

"Many decisions in such cases were handed down by military courts. These courts should not deal with civilians,” he told The Media Line.

According to Human Rights Watch, Hamas military courts do not give detainees access to a lawyer until their interrogation is over and they are sent to prison.

Human Rights Watch has also documented 32 cases of extra-judicial execution of alleged collaborators by masked Palestinians during and after Israel's offensive in Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009.

"Hamas was using the war as an excuse to execute political opponents," Van Esveld said. "They were executed after being arrested when they could have been tried in court."

Hamas has sentenced 16 people to death since the beginning of 2009, including eight convicted of treason. The rest were convicted drug dealers.

The Palestinian Authority recently reaffirmed the death penalty for people guilty of selling land to Israelis; however the death penalty must be ratified by the Palestinian President to be implemented.


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