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In search of teens, soldiers 'looted' Palestinian homes

Palestinians reported numerous incidents of looting by IDF soldiers during Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank. Here’s the first case documented by Yesh Din.

By Yossi Gurvitz for Yesh Din

During Operation Brother’s Keeper, IDF soldiers invaded thousands of houses in the West Bank, under the pretext of looking for the three kidnapped teenagers. These raids give us brief glimpse at the differences between Palestinians living under Israeli control and Israeli citizens.

For instance, were someone to be kidnapped in Petah Tikva, no one would imagine placing the city under curfew, preventing its denizens from traveling abroad or carrying out “searches” in random apartments without the need to show a legal search warrant.

Yet that is precisely what happened to Wasafia Sadeq Othman Salah Khater, a senior citizen living in the village of Aqraba, on June 22. At around 2:30 a.m., about a dozen soldiers knocked on her door, entering without explanation nor a warrant. The soldiers found nothing, as there was nothing to be found; but for an hour they wreaked havoc on Khater’s house. Aside from her, the house was home to her pensioner husband and their eight sons.

An elderly Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier taking part in the search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by Palestinian militants, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank city of Hebron. Israel stepped up efforts against Hamas in the West Bank Tuesday as the hunt for three Israeli teenagers entered its fifth day. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An elderly Palestinian man argues with an Israeli soldier taking part in the search operation for three Israeli teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by Palestinian militants, on June 17, 2014 in the West Bank city of Hebron. Israel stepped up efforts against Hamas in the West Bank Tuesday as the hunt for three Israeli teenagers entered its fifth day. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The soldiers were not satisfied with simply ripping off the covering of the sofas and spreading out their contents, nor with breaking a closet door: they did what the army will not speak of: they looted the house. At first, the soldiers stole an expensive wrist watch, worth approximately $200. Then, they looted an envelope that Khater held on her body – a very reasonable thing to do, when strangers invade your home – which contained 15,000 shekels (the equivalent of $4,400) and 1,700 Jordanian dinars (about $2,400).

Even if this had been a legal confiscation – and there is no way of telling, since the soldiers didn’t leave any written confirmation – Khater has no reasonable way of getting the money back. In order to do so she would have to appeal to the Israeli High Court of Justice, But since she didn’t receive a confirmation, the incident didn’t count as confiscation. Later on, as she looked through the house, Khater found that the soldiers ran off with her purse, which contained 400 NIS. Looting, it should be remembered, is a war crime. And while the Israeli military law does not recognize war crimes, it does punish looters with up to 10 years imprisonment.

Khater’s husband is a pensioner; she herself is a housewife. The money they have comes from their children. They were looted by several soldiers, who were commanded by an officer who either did not know what occurred – in which case he is unfit for command – or knew and turned a blind eye, in which case he is unfit for command and should spend time in prison with his looting soldiers. Either way, he is responsibile for their actions.

But the chances that he will be prosecuted are practically nil. The rate of indictment of soldiers is near-zero. And after all, this incident took place as the national brain was suffused with blood.

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Israelis have grown accustomed to explaining away everything done by IDF soldiers, up to and including the killing of children. The only things they can’t explain are: 1) intentional attacks on animals and, 2) looting. Nobody can claim that looting makes any operational sense; no one can claim it is not a crime (and one of the most serious in the Israeli military law). Therefore, the IDF and the Israeli media, which has become very adept at not challenging the Israeli way of thinking, simply do not speak of it.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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Looting by IDF soldiers: ‘But on the spoil, laid they not their hand’

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    1. Danny

      With all due respect to the crime of looting (and I do not make light of it), this is the least of the Israeli army’s recent crimes.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      A great irony of World War II was that whilst the Red Army committed massive atrocities against the civilian populations they did shoot looters.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Whiplash

      What is missing in this story? First, there is no indication that the IDF was interviewed for this article. Second,the surname of the family allegedly robbed is a well known Hamas clan name. For instance, Sami Khater was a well known and important Hamas political figure (Khaled Meshal’s right hand man) who raised monies in Qatar and funneled the money to the West Bank and Gaza, in cash, to fund Hamas activities, including terrorist operations. Clan members would be an obvious choice for Hamas to funnel money through.

      Thus, it is a possibility, maybe a good possibility, that the IDF targeted this house because of suspected clan involvement in money laundering for Hamas. The existence of large sums of money for a Palestinian retirees to have in their home raises the possibility the family was holding and/or distributing money for Hamas. Or they could be entirely innocent.

      However 972 does not provide the reader with an alternate explanation to soldiers looting this home.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        So, by your logic, to defeat Hezbollah and Iran, the US should go around the Middle East extrajudicially arresting everyone with the surnames “al-Sadr” and “al-Musawi.”

        You have an interesting thought process: soldiers commit a crime against a civilian (appropriating his personal effects without a warrant), and you assume they must have had a good reason.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sonnehuhr

          Did you mention Sadr? The US did one better. It laid siege to Al-Sadr City, rained down helicopter fire, drone strikes, tank shells, put boots on the grounds, smashed through homes and business, and put up a concrete barrier across Sadr City. ABout 600 civilians were killed in Al-Sadr.

          The Americans also bombed a building close to Al-Sadr hospital and did significant damage to the hospital in the strike.

          Israel raiding a potential Hamas house seems very tame in comparison.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            You’re a real gem of a human being. Because somebody, somewhere else has done something “worse,” “lesser” suffering can be rationalized away. Go around to victims of petty crime and tell them to buck up and stop crying; they had it easy!

            And remember to stick it where the sun don’t shine, in the meantime.

            Reply to Comment
        • Craig Vale

          I, like you, found the claim risable in nature. To thibnk that somehow the IDF was justified in their looting just because they homeowner had the same last name ? Look, most armies loot, it’s not a rare thing at all. But they should be shot like they would have done to a civilain had he/she been caught doing likewise. It is the ultimate punishment, First the IDF kills your kids and grandpa, blows up your house, burns your olive groves,kills your animals, then combs thru the rubble looking for the stash of shekels that the woman of the house had stashed to buy cooking oil and pita for the month. Real class act. To top that off, they IDF expects you to take all this abuse lying down.
          The butchers continue with their unseemly duties of murdering innocents and they relish they opportunity to see grown men and women of Gaza weep for their lost loved ones. They must be real proud of themselves. For the most part Israel is bereft of a social and moral conscience save the few who dispite being ostracized are brave enough to speak up against the injustices made in the name of Israel.Have they no shame at all?

          Reply to Comment
      • The pretext for the home invasion was search for the then three missing youth, not money laundering by Hamas affiliates. This is an example of exactly what Brother’s Keeper did: expand search and seizure well beyond the kidnap event, without direct tie to that event, nor even direct tie of the event to Hamas generally.

        These events were communicated like wildfire through the internet and become the pretext for initial rocket fire from Hamas, probably not sanctioned by what I suspect was a then weak Hamas “PA unity” command; Israeli retaliatory bombing followed, more rockets, more retaliation, leading to a switch in Gazan command announcing the firing of rockets. From there Gazan Hamas military command tried to enter Israel through the tunnels, and now we have not only Protective Edge bombing, but a ground invasion.

        As Whiplash notes, the invaded family might have been guilty of Hamas laundering–or not. Using national furor of the kidnapping to replicate this instance over much of the WB produced an mirror image Hamas nationalism within Gaza which has lead to the present crisis.

        The boy’s bodies would have been found without these WB wide searches. The reciprocally building nationalism could have been averted. So, Whiplash, appropriately named you are.

        Treating the kidnap through a hard dragnet, even locking down hundreds of thousands, might have prevented Protective Edge. That lesson, I truly believe, must be hammered home in the coming months.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Arb

      “under the pretext of looking for the three kidnapped teenagers”

      It wasn’t a pretext. It was a real need to find them.

      The IDF does not look kindly upon theft or looting, as you well know. If you know the home and the date of the event, you can find the unit that was there and file a report. The IDF will look into it. Any Israeli soldier who loots/steals deserves the most severe punishment to set an example.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I hear of any soldiers being court-martialled, and actually punished severely, for this.

        Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        A real need to find three boys the senior military and political echelons knew were already dead and whose murders they were simply exploiting by lying to everyone, including the mothers of those boys who were sent by the state to the UN in the full knowledge that they were dead? You can’t make this shit up.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Joel

      The thieves should be court martialed.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Avdim

      The author does seem to be able to tell the difference between a documented fact and an allegation. The article should stress that everything written is just an allegation, done by someone who probably didn’t enjoy the IDF visit.

      They could have also blamed IDF for soldiers for rape, or racism because they did not rape anyone.

      Allegations run easily in our area. From wild boars, to spreading AIDS, to a slow genocide, to blowing up the Al-Aqsa mosque, to looting.

      I don’t know what really happened, I just hate when an allegation against several soldiers becomes a fact, which then spreads to describe the entire IDF.

      Philos – you can’t really say that the Red army shot looters. They shot all kinds of soldiers when they felt like it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        Try reading a couple of books. The Red Army tolerated rape and murder but not the plunder of private property, which was punishable with summary on the spot execution. Obviously, like the Americans, British and Free French, their soldiers managed to get away with some plundering. I hope you can see what the irony is.

        Reply to Comment
        • Avdim

          Everything was punishable with summary execution – when it fit army commanders \ politruks. People were executed for not charging fast enough or for losing boxes of worthless medals. They were sometimes executed for looting and sometimes for rape.

          Don’t be an ass, I have read my share of books. If one of the many books you have read supports what you claim – bring a citation.

          Reply to Comment
    7. CigarButNoNice

      None of this would happen if the Arabs weren’t colonizing and occupying Jewish land.

      (Spare me the outrage on this comment. I’m saying nothing but the converse of what you left-wing deniers of Jewish rights to the Land of Israel always say—for example recently about the three murdered Israeli Jewish boys in Judea and Samaria.)

      Reply to Comment
    8. Goldmarx

      Tough noogies – Likudniks don’t get spared from Zionists like me.

      The fact that Israel has solid peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan gives the lie to your statement.

      “None of this would happen” if Israel negotiated a peace treaty with Hamas when it was first elected. It did not even try.

      Let’s remember that Hamas was spawned largely by Israel, with money and non-financial legal and political assistance to counter Arafat. Why should any decent human being feel sorry for Dr. Frankenstein when his monster turns against him?

      Reply to Comment