When Murad Albaden was woken up one morning by Israeli soldiers and police officers, he had no idea they were going to raid his home, destroy his furniture and take his money.
By Yossi Gurvitz for Yesh Din
One of the issues the Israeli army hardly ever discusses is looting. In the IDF’s early days, it was considered to be a grave felony. Ben-Gurion dismissed a valued officer, Uri Ben Ari, following the 1956 Sinai War, after the colonel’s driver – not the colonel himself – was caught with a looted sack of sugar. In another case during the same war, an officer by the name of Aryeh Biro threatened to shoot a fellow officer on the spot after Biro caught him looting. Journalist Nahum Barnea once documented a paratrooper captain during the First Lebanon War who ordered his soldiers to turn over their loot, lest he severely punish them. He then burned the booty before their eyes.
But that was a long time ago, when the IDF still fought regular armies, rather than an occupied population. Along the years of occupation there were quite a few reports of looting, and the IDF’s latest large operation in the West Bank, Operation Brother’s Keeper, supplied Yesh Din with a series of such reports. Yesh Din recently reported a case of looting from ‘Aqraba; here is a story from Tuqu.
In the town of Tuqu, southeast of Bethlehem, lives Murad ‘Ayish Khamdan Albaden, who works as a tax collector for the municipality. Early one morning at the end of June, Albaden was awakened by strong knocking on his door. A large group of soldiers was outside, accompanied by several police officers who were not in uniform, but had police hats on.
The soldiers ordered Albaden to concentrate the family members, including three children, in one room, and then began causing massive damage to the house. They carried out an intensive search, breaking furniture and doors and smashing closets, all of which frightened his children. The undersigned once saw, during his military service, a soldier smashing a transparent glass table, saying later with a smile that he had been searching it. Such a search was carried out in Albaden’s house. It was a warrant-less search – a search without proper documentation of the search. A “search” that one could liken to a kind of intimidation, or perhaps, terrorism.
But that’s not the story. There are far too many similar stories, never mind the fact that Albaden didn’t even complain about the damage. During the search, Albaden was asked to present all the money he had in the center of the living room. There was 4,800 NIS there, 3,000 of which were tax funds Albaden had collected as part of his job (he kept the receipts) and had yet to turn over to the municipality, as well as 1,800 NIS of his own money. One of the men with the police hats took the money, but adamantly refused to give Albaden a receipt, which he is obliged to give by law during a confiscation. The man with the hat claimed he didn’t have the proper form with him. Albaden asked for a handwritten receipt; the man with the hat refused, saying Albaden should go to the Etzion District Coordination Office (DCO).
Here we should explain the difference between confiscation and looting. Confiscation is a legal act, but it must be accompanied with a document that affirms and documents the fact that the authorities have seized property. The official IDF magazine, Ba’Makhane, wrote a few days ago that the IDF confiscated some 1.2 million NIS during Operation Brother’s Keeper.
But taking property without documentation is not confiscation. There is no documentation of the seized property, and in practice, there is no way of knowing that it ended up with the authorities rather than in the hands of the person who seized it. The fact that the man with the hat refused to give Albaden a receipt, or any other document, raises grave concern that what happened here was not a confiscation but looting.
Such concerns becomes stronger when we learn what happened next. Albaden went to the police station, where they said they had no knowledge of the case and no documentation, and sent him to the Etzion DCO. There, a policeman laughed in his face and sent him back to the police.
In the meantime, 4,800 NIS – 3,000 of it belonging to the residents of Tuqu, under Albaden’s trust – is gone. The reasonable suspicion is that it was looted.
Israelis have become accustomed to defending just about anything their occupation forces do. They can, and sometimes do, defend the shooting of unarmed children, because “you don’t know what he did before that.” Looting has no operational excuse. The looter does not protect the State of Israel; he corrupts it.
The Israeli media refrained from reporting the cases of looting during the operation, even though they are known to quite a few people. This, again, is not something that can be explained away. What cannot be excused, will be dragged under the carpet. If you, too, think that looting by the security forces is something to be discussed, to be openly condemned, share this post.