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May 5, 2008 – WASHINGTON – A Palestinian Authority police officer accused of helping Israel with counterterrorism is facing death at the hands of a firing line unless a last-minute appeal to President Bush can save him.
The cause of the police officer, Imad Sa'ad, is being championed by a woman who became famous as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union before she moved to Israel in 1987, Ida Nudel. It comes as Secretary of State Rice this weekend arrived in Israel for another round of diplomacy aimed at creating an independent Palestinian Arab state before the end of the Bush presidency.
The case raises questions about the intentions of Prime Minister Abbas's Fatah government in the West Bank. Mr. Sa'ad, a former member of the Palestinian Authority's national security forces, is accused of providing the Israel Defense Forces with the whereabouts of four accused Palestinian terrorists Mr. Abbas's regime was unwilling to hand over to the Israelis. In a court in Hebron he was convicted of being a collaborator. But cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on counterterrorism is a precondition under agreements for the relinquishment of land for a Palestinian Arab state. What's more, the sentence against Mr. Sa'ad was meted out by a judge from Fatah, which is Mr. Abbas's Palestinian faction and the one that Ms. Rice hopes her diplomacy will strengthen against Hamas, the Iranian-backed terrorists who now control Gaza.
"Sa'ad's crime was simply reporting to Israeli authorities on the whereabouts of four fugitive Palestinian gunmen that the PA was unwilling to arrest," the director of the Israel Law Center, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, writes in a letter that will be sent to Mr. Bush today. "Fortunately, the security services were able to utilize the information and take out the terrorists before they could unleash any further attacks on Israeli civilians. This operation saved the lives of scores of Israelis and other innocent victims. It is no different than the recent preventive American army attack on Al Qaeda terrorists in Somalia. However, for assisting in this operation, Sa'ad was arrested and sentenced to death by a Palestinian firing squad."
Ms. Darshan-Leitner asks for President Bush to suspend $200 million in security assistance promised to Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority until Mr. Sa'ad's sentence is overturned. She has also sent out similar appeals to the European Union and the Vatican.
"President Bush, these so called 'collaborators' are Israel's front line in the war on Palestinian terror," she wrote. "They have assisted the Israel Defense Forces in thwarting thousands of suicide bombings and have saved many thousands of innocent lives. They must not be abandoned by democratic nations, such as the United States, which are combating terrorism worldwide."
The fate of Palestinian Arabs who have cooperated with Israel has been a thorny issue in the last 15 years of negotiations that began with the Oslo agreements in 1993. Israeli authorities have at times had to evacuate their former sources and have also pledged at one point openly in the Oslo years to refrain from recruiting new sources in the West Bank and Gaza. Nonetheless, the conviction and at times execution of these so-called collaborators by Palestinian Arab courts has been a semi-regular occurrence for Israel's peace partner, particularly after negotiations fell apart in September 2000 and Yasser Arafat called for a second Palestinian uprising.
Ms. Nudel has devoted much energy to saving Palestinian Arab so-called collaborators from execution. Ms. Darshan-Leitner, who is working with Ms. Nudel on this case, said that often the trials of the so-called collaborators are brief and the suspects are not allowed to be represented by an attorney. Another problem has been that those suspected of collaboration are often targeted by Palestinian terrorists, and thus far the Palestinian Authority has done next to nothing to investigate their murders, according to Ms. Darshan-Leitner.
At times, however, the advocacy of Ms. Nudel and the Israel Law Center has succeeded in obtaining the stay of scheduled executions.
Secretary Rice in Ramallah yesterday praised Mr. Abbas, and particularly his leadership of the security services. "It takes some time to deal with the effects of the Intifada, but a lot of it has to do with responsible actions by the Palestinian government and the Palestinian Authority which are really now in place," she said. "And because of that, I think you are going to see improvements on the West Bank."
In an interview, Ms. Darshan-Leitner said that she first appealed to Prime Minister Olmert to bring up the status of her client in the current negotiations. On April 29, she urged him in a letter to do everything he could to secure the release of Mr. Sa'ad. The letter included the demand, on behalf of Ms. Nudel, "that Israel employ its considerable military capability to launch a rescue operation to extract the prisoner from his cell."