ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Informants have played a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for many years. Yesterday, we told you about a Palestinian man from the Gaza Strip who was arrested by Israel when he applied for permission to travel last summer. And after a week of interrogation in an Israeli prison, he was put in a cell with people he thought were other Palestinian prisoners but they were actually working for Israeli intelligence.
Well, today, NPR's Emily Harris has the story of one of these pretend prisoners. He's says he did that work for years and that he's proud of it.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Abdel Hamid el-Rajoub is in his 60s now. He grew up in a Palestinian village near Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He says he was 19 when he got involved in fighting Israel.
ABDEL HAMID EL-RAJOUB: (Through Translator) It was my right to fight the existence of Israel and against the occupation.
HARRIS: Rajoub tells his story at a busy coffee shop in Israel, where he now lives. He says he joined the military branch of the Palestinian political group Fatah and took part in an attack on Israelis in the mid-1970s that landed him in Israeli prison.
EL-RAJOUB: (Through Translator) Prison oppresses your feelings, your mind and your freedom.
HARRIS: But not only Israelis oppressed him in prison. Rajoub says that fellow Palestinians - Fatah members - accused him of passing information to Israeli intelligence. He says those accusations were wrong. But being fingered as an informant was so dangerous that he was moved from the general prison population into a solitary cell.
EL-RAJOUB: (Through Translator) I was in the Israeli cell alone for four years, waiting for Fatah to realize I was not an informant. But an apology never came. I thought a lot during those four years. Then I realized that my problem was with Fatah, not with Israel.
HARRIS: So the man once wrongly accused as an informant became one. He chokes up remembering.
EL-RAJOUB: (Through Translator) It was a personal decision, a painful decision.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)
EL-RAJOUB: (Through Translator) Whenever I remember that moment, I cry.
HARRIS: Rajoub stayed in prison, but in special cells full of other informants like him. Their job was to put on a show of being real prisoners, to fool other Palestinians into revealing information that Israeli intelligence couldn't get.
CHAIM NATIV: It was a part of the interrogation.
HARRIS: Former Israeli intelligence officer Chaim Nativ worked in the Arab section of Israel's Shin Bet service for 30 years. The cells of collaborators, he says, were useful.
NATIV: Sometimes when you are stuck in the interrogation and the case is on the border. I mean, you don't know if he's white or black or sometimes. So you send him to the asafeer.
HARRIS: Asafeer means sparrows in Arabic. It's what Palestinians call the collaborators in this theatre of entrapment, which is still used today.
Abdel Sattar Kassem, a Palestinian professor and former prisoner, says he met Rajoub in a cell full of sparrows in 1981. After nine days of solitary confinement and Israeli interrogation, the sparrows welcomed him.
ABDEL SATTAR KASEEM: I ate and had very full stomach. And somebody then said, Doctor, I want to talk to you. He told me that he was the head of that room and he was very pleased to see me.
HARRIS: Kassem says he confessed nothing because he had heard about this trick. In fact, he'd heard that Rajoub help start the sparrows interrogations, a claim Rajoub also makes. Israeli security sources won't confirm that or anything about Rajoub, but a relative will. Nayef Rajoub is a Palestinian politician in the West Bank.
NAYEF RAJOUB: (Through Translator) It's shameful for me, shameful for all the Palestinian people. But yes, he is the one.
HARRIS: Nayef Rajoug doesn't even like Fatah, the political party his relative betrayed. But Rajoub the sparrow is proud of whatever he did against the organization that he feels betrayed him.
EL-RAJOUB: (Through Translator) I uprooted their movement. I cancelled them. I don't care if I helped put people in prison. My work was to persuade them to talk. It wasn't up to me what happened after that.
HARRIS: Rajoub is no longer a prison informant, but says he's still working for an independent state of Palestine.
Emily Harris, NPR News.