- RAMALLAH, WEST BANK
- Majdi Malki can see why the Israeli army sliced his living-room curtains
and emptied out his closets. But he cannot see how they might have felt
justified in helping themselves to several thousand dollars worth of his
wife's and daughters' jewellery, a couple of cameras, his fountain pens
and even his sunglasses.
- "I understand the searches," said Mr. Malki,
a sociology professor at Ramallah's Bir Zeit University. "But why
do they steal?"
- As the Israeli army keeps up its house-to-house searches
in towns under siege across the West Bank, there are hundreds of reports
of looting by Israeli soldiers. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination
of Humanitarian Assistance says it has widespread reports of theft, although
they are impossible to verify.
- Lior Yavne, spokesman for the Israeli human-rights group
B'tselem, said they have also received such reports, mostly from soldiers
describing the actions of others.
- "I think the problem is much more widespread than
the army will admit," he said in an interview. "The problem for
us is proving allegations. In unjustified killings, you have eye witnesses,
but in this case there is no evidence."
- Army spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal said the kind of
stealing described in interviews with Palestinians in Ramallah, Qalqilya
and Jenin is "not acceptable" and "against orders,"
although he said the reports are likely exaggerated. It is one thing for
soldiers to take documents from the homes of people they suspect, he said,
but not televisions and VCRs.
- The Israeli army was known for looting during its time
in Lebanon, especially Mercedes-Benz cars. Mr. Yavne called it the tradition
of "putting a VCR in the tank." But theft is new in the treatment
of civilians in the Palestinian territories.
- Mr. Yavne said B'tselem heard reports of two kinds of
looting: the taking of "souvenirs," such as prayer beads or pictures
of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; and the theft of cash or objects of
value, notably jewellery, cellphones and silverware. He said soldiers reportedly
take Israeli shekels but leave piles of Jordanian dinars, which are also
in use in the West Bank.
- In several West Bank towns where Israeli troops had pulled
out, Palestinians told similar stories. They said soldiers had directed
members of the family into one room, then proceeded to search the rest
of the house. When the soldiers left, the family found many items of value
- In Qalqilya, Zakiyah Pasha described how soldiers smashed
the television screen, emptied out the cupboards and left with her family's
savings of 1,200 shekels -- about $400.
- In a village outside Jenin, a man named Eyad who fled
a nearby refugee camp said soldiers took his cellphone, cigarettes and
watch, pocketing the money from his wallet before herding him into a room
with other men to be detained.
- And in Ramallah -- on the second day of this offensive,
13 days ago -- an armoured personnel carrier burst through the doors of
Max, a posh new supermarket. When soldiers broke into the storage area
in the basement, neighbours reported hearing explosions.
- It wasn't until a few days later, when its owner, Mahmoud
Abdullah, was able to return to the store during a brief lifting of the
curfew, that he was able to discover the reason for the blasts: In addition
to helping themselves to boxes of food, perfume and cigarettes, the soldiers
had tried to blast open the safe. The lock was destroyed but the heat from
the explosion had sealed the box.
- The same soldiers -- neighbours identified them by their
armoured personnel carrier, with the number 3 on the hood -- came back
yesterday an hour before the curfew was lifted again. There were the sounds
of more explosions from the store, and when Mr. Abdullah came back, he
found the safe's door off and its contents gone -- an estimated $18,000.
- While many Palestinians said they were afraid to put
their names to their stories, Mr. Abdullah said he would gladly make a
complaint to the army, but for one problem. "Who do I complain to?"
he asked, laughing in disbelief. "The tanks outside?"
- (Captain Dallal, the army spokesman, said the army would
accept complaints at its West Bank co-ordination office.)
- Many Palestinians are convinced the army is, at best,
turning a blind eye to the practice, or even may have given the soldiers
the permission to pilfer.
- Mr. Yavne said there is likely no direct order to loot.
But he pointed out that the Israeli army doesn't initiate criminal investigations
in cases of unjustified killings or shootings. When "you don't have
accountability for cases of abuse or brutality, you can only expect this
to happen," he said.
- Copyright 2002 | Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.