September 2, 2002
TULKARM, West Bank – The woman is in obvious anguish, moving constantly,
slapping her hands, clutching her face, occasionally succumbing to a deep
moan. Below the Muslim head scarf, her eye is black.
“My daughter made a mistake,” she said. “My daughter fell into the trap
of my brother. My daughter was cheated by her uncle. My daughter was an
informer. Everybody looks at us in a different way. I want to turn the page. I
want a decent life.”
As Muyasar Ibrahim ranted on, her other children, ranging from a toddler to a
young man, huddled anxiously around her at the entrance to their three-room
hovel at the end of an alley. They alternately urged visitors to leave and glanced
fearfully at a clutch of Palestinian youths laughing and watching from the alley.
On Friday, the 43-year-old woman’s 17-year-old daughter, Rajah Ibrahim, was
shot dead as a collaborator by members of the militant Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
Six days earlier, Ms. Ibrahim’s sister, 35-year-old Ikhklas Khouli, was similarly
killed. Six months earlier, Ms. Ibrahim’s husband was executed.
In the street, there was no pity, no doubt that justice had been done.
Collaboration has always ranked as a heinous crime among the
Palestinians. Dozens of men have been killed as collaborators, often publicly.
Ms. Khouli and Ms. Ibrahim, however, had the distinction of being the first
women executed in the current uprising, and their deaths attracted considerable
attention. The band of neighborhood boys happily led reporters to show them
Ms. Khouli’s similarly meager home a block away – or at least its remains. After
she was killed, the family moved in with her daughter’s husband in a village a
few miles away, and two days later the home was burned down. Now a broken
door and a few charred mattresses litter the darkened rooms.
“We don’t want them to come back,” explained an 18-year-old who gave his
name as Mahmoud.
“They should have hanged them in front of everybody,” shouted another
youth. “She deserved it.”
In a pharmacy around the corner, the middle-aged proprietor was reminded that
Ms. Khouli, a widow, had seven children, who are now orphans. “What, she
didn’t know she had children?” the woman retorted. “If she hadn’t followed this
path, nobody would have touched her. Inside, I do feel sorry for them, but I
cannot help them. What you plant, you harvest.”
In a videotaped confession Ms. Khouli made before she was shot, in all the
accounts given in the streets and in a furtive interview with members of Al
Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the story was that the women had been working for Ali
Yassin, the brother of the two women. A “well known” collaborator, as people
described him, he had fled to Israel and now worked with the Israelis.
Some said he had threatened the women, others that he gave them money. But
the consensus was that he had recruited them – one to use her many children
to report on the movements of Palestinian militants, the other to plant a bomb.
Outside the Tulkarm hospital, in the center of the city, a man pointed to the
spot where Ms. Ibrahim was shot. It was about 5 p.m. when he heard the
firing, and as he ran up, he saw three masked men leaving and the body, with
bullet wounds in her legs and head. The bullets were still visible in the
It was during curfew, and no other witnesses have come forward.
In an unusual move, a spokesman for the Brigades agreed to an interview.
Everybody was talking about the executions, he said, and he wanted to explain.
After a furtive meeting in the open street, during which the man and a
clutch of his comrades repeatedly glanced in all directions and made calls on
their cellphones, he led reporters to an apartment hung with posters of Aksa
“martyrs,” who had been killed in clashes with Israel. An AK-47 assault rifle
hung over one.
The most prominent poster was of Raed al-Karmi, a 27-year-old leader of the
group in Tulkarm who was killed by a hidden bomb in January. Many
Palestinians, and some Israelis, say his death broke an informal cease-fire that
had been in force for several weeks, and prompted Al Aksa, an offshoot of
Yasir Arafat’s Fatah movement, to begin carrying out attacks inside Israel,
which until then had been largely the work of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
To the Israeli Army, Mr. Karmi was a terrorist, whom they had already tried to
kill in September. In Tulkarm, he has been a folk hero, a warrior to whom songs
were composed, who commanded fierce loyalty in the streets.
Rajah Ibrahim, the man explained, had been responsible for bringing in the
bombs that killed Mr. Karmi and for burying them at a spot he often passed.
Before the uprising, most of the men in Tulkarm worked in Israel, which is right
outside the town. Most of them were barred from entering Israel, but women –
including Ms. Ibrahim, a seamstress – were still allowed to cross.
“While in Israel, Rajah was recruited by her uncle,” said the spokesman, a burly
man who would not give his name. “She met with two Israeli officers and her
uncle at the checkpoint, with two other girls, who are now in Israel, who are
known to us. They gave her two bags, a black one and a red one. One of the
girls led her to the place where she should put the bomb, and the other helped
her dig a hole for it. Her brother kept an eye out.”
The militants in Tulkarm were wary of men coming back, but nobody noted a
girl carrying bags. “It came as a big surprise to us to realize that Israeli
intelligence started using Palestinian women and girls in certain missions,” the
“To be honest, the girl didn’t know what she was doing,” he said. “She
was promised a better job, more money. She knew it was a bomb, but not for
whom. She didn’t ask why.”
Ms. Khouli was accused of providing the information that led to the killing of
another militia leader, Ziad Daas, by an Israeli commando on Aug. 7. The man
said she had sent her 17-year-old son, Bakir Khouli, to watch Mr. Daas’s
movements, and relayed them to her brother by calls from a cellphone he gave
In the videotaped confession released by Al Aksa, Ms. Khouli appears resigned
as she details her actions in response to an invisible interrogator. She did it, she
says, because her brother threatened to kill her. “Everything I say is of my own
free will,” she says.
What else do you want to say to Palestinians? “I want to tell everyone,
women and men, young or old, that even if you are threatened, don’t get into
this.” The tape ends there.
Throughout the interview, the Aksa spokesman sought to explain that killing
collaborators was not the policy of the group, that the collapse of the
Palestinian Authority had imposed this task on them. He insisted that the militia
had taken pains to make sure that their charges were substantiated.
“The interrogators were experienced and qualified intelligence men
from the Palestinian Authority, trained in Britain and the United States,”
“I know about human rights,” he continued. “But when we feel threatened, we
need to react. I am a wanted man, so I might face the same fate. This is
Thirteen men have been assassinated in Tulkarm alone, he said, and more than
100 elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The Americans in Afghanistan, they did not pay attention to the rights
of prisoners,” he continued. “I want to draw attention to a simple fact: if the
Palestinian Authority existed, if there were courts, jail, a security apparatus,
we would quit this role.”
The spokesman insisted that the interrogators did not press the women or their
families – that they had volunteered their information. But the black eye
Muyasar Ibrahim, Rajah’s mother, brought back from her three days of
interrogation tell a different story.
So do the ugly welts on Bakir Khouli’s back. He and his siblings are now in a
village a few miles from Tulkarm, at the home of his brother-in-law. The slight
youth emerged from the house, fidgeting and looking at the ground. He
declined to talk about his interrogation, or his mother, but after some prodding
he raised his T-shirt. It was an electric cable, he says. Yes, it was during the
interrogation. In earlier interviews, he said he would have confessed to
anything to stop the pain.
“It’s over now,” he mumbled. “Everything’s over. We want to open a
new page. It’s not easy.”