JERUSALEM, Israel – What do you call a man who saves the lives of innocent men, women and children? A hero? Not if you're a Palestinian preventing terror attacks and saving the lives of Jewish Israelis and others.
CBN News has closely followed the controversial practice known as "pay-to-slay" in which the Palestinian Authority government rewards terrorists for attacking Israel. Now we have accounts of how the P.A. has brutally tortured its own citizens who try to save lives by preventing terror attacks.
Dozens of Palestinian abuse victims are breaking their silence, like this man whom we'll call "Baber" to protect his identity.
"I know this isn't right to go and kill people on the street. This isn't right to blow up a bus," Baber told CBN News.
The Palestinian Authority condemned this man and others as collaborators for helping Israel. Thousands of Palestinians underwent torture, even death, accused of acts the rest of the world would call heroic.
Suing the Offenders
That's why an Israeli law firm is representing 52 accused collaborators and suing the Palestinian Authority for compensation.
"We have the privilege to represent those Arabs who were tortured to give a little bit of comfort and try to protect those people," said Nati Rom, partner in the Rom, Arbus, Kedem, Zur law firm.
The violence took off in the 1990s after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – the P.A.'s "parent organization") – in what today is called the "peace process."
"Terror was rampant in Israel. There weren't [just] a few Palestinians that were helping Israel to fight terrorism," said Barak Kedem, also a partner in the Rom, Arbus, Kedem, Zur law firm.
The Oslo Accords required the Palestinian Authority to fight terror, but according to attorney Barak Kedem that didn't happen.
"The Palestinian Authority that had made a deal with Israel, the Oslo Accords, carried out actions against those collaborators that were trying to prevent terror," Kedem told CBN News.
"They captured them; they imprisoned them in conditions that were very, very hard. They tortured them, really torture that was hell in order to extract a confession from them that they helped Israel," Kedem said.
Tortured to Death
The stories are hideous. This is just one man's story.
"They took his little sister, a teenager, brought her to the jail, and threatened him if you don't confess we'll rape your sister," Kedem related. "They had no red lines. So he confessed, but it didn't help. She was murdered. What she went through until she died, we don't know. It's really like ISIS."
Baber told CBN News what happened to him when he was taken in for questioning.
"They entered the room and asked 'when did you start working for the Israeli Shabak [the Shin Bet – secret service]?' I said 'I don't work for the Israelis.'"
This was just one kind of torture he endured.
"They tied your hands and feet and head. They beat you from every direction until you fainted. Cursing from the morning until the night – 'you're just a dog', 'in the end you're going to die and we'll throw you on the garbage. We'll do this and this and this. We'll rape you,'" he recalled.
Baber said he faced no official charges or had his day in court. His parents couldn't visit and the Red Cross was apparently never notified of his confinement.
"Every day for seven months I was under interrogation from night until morning – beatings, burning my hands, they used everything. Finally, they stuck a copper wire up my private parts and they lit it on fire," he said.
After seven long months, he signed a blank piece of paper that served as a confession. He then worked in the prison for more than two years until his parents raised enough money to buy his freedom.
But his story wasn't finished. Baber escaped to Israel. He married but then divorced. Later he returned to see his parents and was re-arrested. He would have died if he hadn't escaped.
"Mahbeer" is another accused collaborator.
"People came to my house, three men, so they said, 'Excuse me, can you come with us to our internal security of the Palestinian Authority?' I said, 'fine'. I couldn't tell them no. The minute I walked in their door, maybe 40 men fell on me and started beating, beating, beating me to death," Mahbeer told CBN News.
When they stopped, they left him bruised, bleeding and alone.
"In the evening he came to me and the interrogator said to me, 'I'm Hitler. You know what Hitler did to the Jews?' I said, 'yes.' 'Like Hitler did to the Jews I'm going to do to you collaborators,'" he said.
The beatings and torture went on for a year and a half. Then in 2002 at the height of the second Intifada (armed Palestinian uprising), Israel began Operation Defensive Shield in the Palestinian areas. The guards ran away and Mahbeer was freed. So he returned to his village and wife and children.
"After two or three days they came to my village with masks and weapons and they started to shoot at my house, and all the village saw this," Mahbeer said. "They wanted to take me, to take me out and kill me, but God didn't want me to die at the moment so I argued with them and escaped to the State of Israel."
Freedom hasn't been easy, however, for these falsely accused Palestinians. Many don't have Israeli citizenship or medical insurance. Others can't work because of physical injuries and emotional trauma. Plus, they're separated from their families.
"Now, my children, they're big children. I can't see them. I don't know who they are. My dad died there. I couldn't go to see him. My mom is already elderly – 18 years since I've seen her – I only speak to her on the telephone," Mahbeer said.
A Glimmer of Hope
Fortunately, they now have hope. More than 15 years after the torture ended, their lawyers won a suit leading to a 2,000-page verdict from the judge – one of the longest in Israel's history.
Initially, it provides the victims about $420,000 – enough to cover medical evaluations.
"The State has a big obligation to these people. And the time has come that we pay them back their reward," Kedem said.
The next move? Determining the extent of their injuries and claiming estimated millions of dollars in damages from the Palestinian Authority. That money could be deducted from the $200 million in income tax money Israel collects from Palestinians working in Israel on behalf of the P.A. each month.
P.A. Money Goes to Terrorists
"The Palestinians will not give it to us. They are giving money to terrorists to kill our brothers and sisters," Rom said.
And that's widely known as Pay to Slay.
As CBN has reported, each year the P.A. doles out some $300 million in compensation – much of it American tax dollars – to terrorists who attack Israelis.
"Your tax money goes to terror," Rom continued. "Instead of that you need to support this cause by helping the people who prevent terror. We are talking about people who risked their lives to prevent suicide bombers to bomb inside buses with children and women. So those are heroes."
Rom said the story is even more shocking.
Human Rights Organizations Can't Help
According to him, of the more than 230 human rights organizations they notified – 99 percent replied they have no means to help.
"Where's the UN? Where's the EU?" he asked. "Everybody who likes to speak about human rights in the Middle East, this is the real story."
Only one group took the challenge – the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) and its human rights arm, Blue and White Human Rights.
"We think that dealing with human rights of Palestinians is our obligation no matter what our political view is," said the institute's CEO Miri Shalem.
Shalem said helping these men is what being human is all about.
"We have an explanation why the other human rights organizations didn't want to take care of it [helping the Palestinians]," Shalem told CBN News.
"They didn't want to deal with suing the Palestinian Authority. The other reason: we are dealing with collaborators who helped the security of Israel, and I don't think the human rights organizations really care [about] the security of Israel," Shalem said.
They've taken the first steps in a long battle. Now they hope Israel and the West will join them in standing behind these unsung heroes.