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Execution of Palestinian 'collaborator' in West Bank shows falling trust in PA

The Lion's Den group in the West Bank has executed a young Palestinian for collaborating with Israel in a reminder of the extrajudicial violence of the intifadas.
Palestinian youths celebrate following the news of an attack in a settler neighborhood in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, in the center of Nablus, West Bank, Jan. 27, 2023.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The recent execution of an alleged Palestinian collaborator with Israel in the West Bank city of Nablus was reminiscent of the extrajudicial killings during the first and second intifadas.

According to local reports, Zuhair Ghalith, 23, was shot dead by six gunmen in the al-Qaryoun neighborhood of Nablus’ Old City in the northern West Bank last Saturday. A video of Ghalith confessing to working with the Israeli army had widely circulated on social media. 

Ghalith's execution reflects the declining trust Palestinians, particularly resistance groups, have in the PA, which they accuse of failing to pursue spies in light of its security coordination with Israel under the Oslo Accords. The PA’s judicial system has also failed to prosecute Israeli collaborators, they say.

The Palestinian Lion’s Den was behind the execution, the first in the West Bank since the end of the second intifada in 2005.

In a brief statement issued on Telegram, the Lion’s Den said that “the traitor was liquidated” and that more details would be released to the public after the group completes its investigation and other security procedures.

In the video, which many viewers felt appeared to be forced, Ghalith says that he was blackmailed by an Israeli intelligence officer with a video of him having sex with another man, and used it to blackmail Ghalith into meeting him in the Huwara camp near Nablus. He explained that he was asked to follow and monitor the moves of several Lion’s Den leaders, including Adham “Mabrouka” al-Shishani, Muhammad al-Dakhil, Ashraf Mubaslat, Muhammad “Abu Saleh” al-Azizi, Abd Al-Rahman Subh and Tamer al-Kilani. All were killed in separate Israeli operations in recent months.

Residents of the Old City of Nablus have praised the execution, including Ghalith's family, which disowned him, as well as relatives of those who were allegedly killed as a result of his actions. They called for the same treatment for anyone found to have collaborated with Israel.

Shortly after the incident, a unit from the PA's Palestinian Preventive Security force arrived at the scene of the execution to investigate. But large crowds gathered there to prevent the unit from entering the scene, prompting the security forces to disperse the crowds with tear gas.

Suleiman Bisharat, director of the Yabous Center for Consulting and Strategic Studies in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor that what happened in Nablus was shocking and that collaboration with Israel is a highly sensitive subject among Palestinians. 

“The recent execution raises questions about the experience level of the armed men that carried out the killing and about the technical and logistic capabilities the Lion’s Den group has,” he added.

Bisharat commented that the Lion’s Den executed Ghalith rather than handing him over to the PA because of its mistrust in the judiciary. He noted that the Oslo Accords and ensuing agreements between Israel and the PA prevented the latter from effectively dealing with those accused of collaborating with Israel.

He warned that the execution may set a precedent with grave consequences such as further killings to settle personal scores, forced confessions under torture and using espionage charges as a pretext to carry out other executions. He noted that this spread of violence could erode the public's trust in the resistance groups.

The PA has yet to publicly comment. Al-Monitor tried to contact the governor of Nablus, Ibrahim Ramadan, and the spokesperson of the security services, Talal Duweikat, but received no answer.

Local human rights institutions have condemned the execution. The Independent Commission for Human Rights expressed concern over what it described as “taking the law into one’s own hands.”

“A. Gh. was extrajudicially killed against the background of collaboration with the Israeli occupying authorities and without due process of law,” the commission said in a statement released on Sunday. “Such a charge falls within the mandate of the PA judicial and security institutions," it read, warning that extrajudicial killings may lead to disorder.

Majed al-Arouri, director of the Civil Commission for Judiciary Independence and the Rule of Law, told Al-Monitor that justice without a fair trial is unacceptable. “The PA should be the party in charge of prosecuting, investigating and trying any person suspected of collaborating with Israel,” he said.

Arouri noted, however, that the PA’s failure to prosecute collaborators as well as its slow judicial proceedings have weakened the courts’ deterrent power. “The public feels that the PA is slacking on prosecuting and pursuing collaborators. These cases are subject to state security law, which means that the proceedings should be clear, strict and transparent,” he said.

Arouri added that the PA’s agreements with Israel have limited its ability to deal with collaborators, while in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip authorities quickly send such cases to the courts, which issue deterrent rulings. 

“The PA has to take responsibility and follow up on this file to ensure fair trials,” he concluded. 

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