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Gaza on alert for Israeli spies

Two suspected spies for Israel have been murdered in Gaza since the outbreak of war as locals are on the lookout for suspicious behavior.
A Palestinian man stands next to a house which police said was targeted in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 17, 2014. Israeli shelling killed four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach on Wednesday, an incident the military called tragic, and Israel and Hamas said they would cease attacks for five hours on Thursday for a humanitarian truce requested by the United Nations. Palestinian militants fired more than 130 rockets into Israel on the ninth day of a war in which Israeli attacks have killed 216 Palest

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — He walked in silence, looking at houses and examining doors, holding something in his hand. He placed it on the wall of one of the houses, looked up and saw a woman watching him from the fourth floor. He walked away quickly, looking guilty, and broke into a run. The woman began to scream, alerting some neighborhood youths, who grabbed him and found a SIM card on him with an Israeli number. They took him in and handed him over to the security services.

According to one woman whose house was bombed by the occupying forces in the city of Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, this was enough to determine this mysterious man a spy for the Israeli military. Standing in front of her demolished home, she told Al-Monitor, “I saw him do that a few hours before our house was hit — everything confirms that he is an Israeli spy. He moved alone when the streets were empty and put signals on houses.”

One young man from a family whose house in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza was bombed by Israeli forces on the first day of the war told Al-Monitor, “I left the house in the middle of the night and saw, attached to the side of our house, a red light giving off some sort of signal. I wanted to try to break it, but my siblings warned me that it could explode.” He continued, “Not more than an hour had passed when our relatives in the area got a call from an Israeli number and a voice with a Gazan accent informed them that they needed to leave our house. It was bombed five minutes later.”

In the first week of the war, which began July 8, the resistance in the Gaza Strip announced that it had arrested a number of spies. It distributed notices of the execution of two of them — one in the Nasr neighborhood of Gaza City and the other in the city of Rafah in the south — throughout the streets of Gaza.

Al-Monitor attempted to corroborate these events with human rights organizations, but their representatives said that the war is making it difficult for them to ascertain the names of those who had been executed. They indicated that one of the suspects had recently been shot and that his body was in a hospital in the central Gaza Strip.

On condition of anonymity, a member of the security forces in the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City told Al-Monitor, “Today, I detained a spy in the hospital. He was asking about people who had been martyred and wounded, which gave us cause for doubt, especially since when we questioned him we found a large amount of money on him, even though the banks are closed.”

He denied that a security panic was causing disorder among the civilian population, stating that questioning only occurs when someone exhibits suspicious behavior. He added, “We have investigated five citizens since the war began. We questioned them and released those who demonstrated their innocence, but the rest we detained in temporary holding areas different from those that we typically use, so that their lives would not be endangered by Israeli bombardment.”

The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip exchange whisper stories of spies and mistrust any stranger who asks the wrong question or encounters resistance fighters or their families at the wrong time.

The spokesman of Islamic Jihad, Yousef al-Hasaniyah, discussed the resistance’s methods of dealing with those suspected of espionage in an interview with Al-Monitor. He pointed out that such cases occur in wartime in any country in the world, adding, “We in Islamic Jihad monitor those suspected of being spies, but we don’t take any punitive action. Rather, we turn them over to the proper authorities and give them the opportunity to repent.”

He added that he supports the idea of formally arresting suspects so that they can receive a fair trial, but noted, “Sometimes spies are killed on the field of battle, which makes an example that frightens other spies because they don’t expect to suffer many casualties.”

This discussion calls to mind similar incidents in the 2012 war, when photos of suspected spies were circulated and those suspected of espionage were killed and dragged through the streets. The Israeli and international media then published photos of those scenes, distracting their audiences from Israel’s killing of civilians.

In a meeting with Al-Monitor, Mushir al-Masry, a member of the Legislative Council, said that Hamas’ experiences in the last war taught the organization to give suspected spies a fair trial.

Commenting on the news that two suspected spies had been killed, he said, “What happened is an isolated incident and has nothing to do with the security services.” He went on, “We consider these killings to be hasty and unacceptable reactions.”

A lawyer belonging to a human rights organization who asked not to be named given the sensitivity of the issue stated that the security services are responsible for the well-being of the citizens of Gaza and their protection from any threats to their lives, whatever the source. He argued that the security services must follow appropriate and just legal procedures, clarifying, “Whoever suspects someone of espionage must present an official notice to the relevant authorities, who have the responsibility to guarantee a just investigation and a fair trial for any suspects.”

He confirmed that at least two suspected spies have been killed during the present war, but that neither of their names have been made available yet. He said, “Street vengeance against these suspects is a crime that corrupts our society, discrediting its positions and struggles in the midst of war. For that reason, it is not acceptable for anyone to take vengeance into his own hands.”

The lawyer said that possessing an Israeli SIM card was not sufficient evidence of guilt and that it is not acceptable to harm citizens who could be in a dire situation or to damage the reputation of their family members.

Al-Monitor’s reporter also met with Iyad al-Bazm, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza City, who said that his ministry does not have any information on the murder of the suspected spies. He said, “We have an emergency plan to maintain order on the home front and protect the resistance and our citizens through the domestic security services’ efforts to pursue these suspects, who threaten the public.” He added, “Those suspected of espionage are arrested and are given legal representation and a trial. But that is currently impossible, so suspects have been detained until the end of the war so that all legal procedures can be completed afterward.”

He asserts that what is happening on the ground — the targeting of hundreds of civilians and civil institutions by Israel — suggests that the network of spies working for the occupation forces is small and that the Israeli military operation has failed to achieve its security objectives. He went on to emphasize, “We reject extrajudicial killings, even if the victims are spies. Such accusations must be investigated and all legal procedures must be followed.”

In this context of war and popular anger, every citizen is a suspect until proven innocent. This reality is illustrated by the experience of S., a young man who a member of the security forces suspected of conducting espionage because he watched them for two days in a public place. The security officer who interrogated the young man told Al-Monitor that security forces took him in for questioning, but discovered that he was not a spy. He had been kicked out of his home following a dispute with his father and was living on the charity of others.

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