Penitent ... Shadi Husseini, 21, admits spying for Israel, but is racked with shame. Photo: Jason Koutsoukis
On the inside: Gaza's prison for collaborators
Naser Suleiman has what many Gazans can only dream of: a well-paid job that he loves.
The director of Gaza's new maximum security prison, Suleiman is proud of the facility that he says is the territory's first prison to be built by inmates.
''It's like a five-star hotel here,'' he says, pointing to the freshly painted architrave in his office.
The most striking aspect of the prison is the atmosphere of leeway. Friends and relatives of the inmates walk in and out of the main entrance unhindered, more like visitors to a hospital.
Also absent are the steel bars, razor wire and electric fences that are standard features in most modern prisons.
''Where would anyone escape to?'' Suleiman asks, explaining the laissez-faire approach. ''The Gaza Strip is ... a prison from which there is no escape.''
Casually brandishing the pistol he normally keeps stuffed in his trouser belt, Suleiman, 47, emphasises an atmosphere that is focused on rehabilitation.
''The prisoners here are treated with great respect,'' he explains earnestly. ''We allow the inmates to watch television and listen to the radio in their rooms and they can prepare their own food, in addition to what we provide them. We even allow prisoners who behave well weekend leave, so they can spend time with their families.''
Built for 150 inmates, the Central Rehabilitation and Reform Centre is home to the usual types of villains, including murderers, rapists and thieves. About 13 are on death row.
With the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and the US-based Human Rights Watch in the past noting serial human rights abuses inside detention facilities in Gaza, Suleiman is quick to absolve his own institution of such practices.
''We do not practice any torture here,'' he says. ''That takes place at the interrogation centre, before people are convicted.''
One inmate with experience of Hamas's interrogation techniques is Atta Najar, a 40-year-old father of four.
''When they questioned me I had my toenails pulled out with pliers and [they] ... hung me up overnight by my hands,'' Najar tells the Herald, with prison director's approval.
Charged with the almost unpardonable crime of spying for Israel, Najar spent six months in an interrogation centre before he was transferred to Suleiman's prison when it opened nearly four months ago.
Najar, who adamantly declares his innocence, is now facing trial and, if convicted, a possible death penalty.
''Two weeks ago we have hanged two murderers,'' Suleiman says. ''The gallows are located in the prison basement.''
Since April, when Gaza's Hamas-run government began a savage crackdown on Israeli spies by executing two Israeli collaborators, there has been a surge in the number of men convicted of espionage.
''Over the past four months, our collaborators ... doubled to 40,'' Suleiman says.
Unlike most inmates convicted of spying for Israel, Shadi Husseini, 21, readily admits his guilt. Penitent and racked with shame, Husseini says early in 2008 he was walking near the security fence that separates Gaza from Israel and was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he says, found himself in a room with men who said they were from the Red Cross. He says the men asked him a series of detailed questions and eventually let him go.
''One of the men gave me some money.'' At that point, he says, he realised the men not from the Red Cross but were most likely from an Israeli security service.
The Herald had received no response to this claim from the Israeli government or the Red Cross when it went to press.
Husseini says some time later the men phoned him and told him he had been filmed accepting the money and said to prevent the film getting into the wrong hands he should agree to provide information. Over the next 18 months, he says, he was in regular contact with his Israeli handlers, for which he received one more payment.
In mid-2009 he walked into a meeting of Hamas militants and was questioned for apparently suspicious behaviour.
''I admitted my guilt,'' he says. In return he received a relatively light jail sentence of seven years. With good behaviour, he could be released within three.
Even then, such is the stain in Gaza of collaborating with Israel, he believes his prospects for a happy love life are next to none. ''I wanted to ask the daughter of our neighbours to marry me. Now I know not to even ask because the family will say no.''
But Husseini reflects that things could be worse. ''I am lucky that my life is not over.'' For seven of his cellmates, another fate awaits: ''They know that it eventually goes into the basement.''