And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. (Joshua 7:10)
The place: the West Bank village of Kalil. The time: 1:30 a.m., around the beginning of June 2015. Athmad Aziz Shakhada Mansour, a social activist and a member of the village council, wakes up from a noise she she has become accustomed to: violent slamming on the front door of the house. She instructs her husband to secure the money and gold the family holds for the wedding of their son M., who is supposed to marry in two days time.
The slams continue. Mansour goes to open the door. A large group of soldiers, all hooded, burst into the house. Somehow, the strange custom of IDF soldiers to hide their faces, as if they were not in charge of law enforcement but rather breaking it—as if they were thieves in the night—has become a fixture over the past few years, while the public remains silent. The soldiers, as usual, gather the residents of the house into one room and forbid them to leave it. When they enter the bedroom, they find Mansour’s husband trying to pack up the money and gold. The husband tells them loudly that he wants to protect the gold; some of the soldiers answer, in what Mansour would later remember as fluent Arabic, that soldiers are not thieves.
The soldiers conduct a search of the house; they are probably looking for arms. They detain Mansour’s husband and her son S. while shouting: “Tell us where the weapons are. You have weapons, surrender them and we’ll release the detainees. You have a wedding in two days, you wouldn’t want the father and one of the brothers to be held custody.”
Finally, the soldiers despair and leave, taking the son S. with them but releasing the father. They didn’t find any weapons. A week later S. is released without charge.
Once the family leaves the room where they were held, they find the usual trail of destruction — a hallmark of a visit by the IDF: the chicken feed has been spilled on the floor, all of the dishware was thrown from the cupboards, and the contents of the drawers have been thrown on the ground.
Among the missing objects is 30,000 NIS ($7,950) in cash, as well as 22 gold coins, purchased for M.’s wedding.
The soldiers, as we understand it, likely had a legitimate reason to break into the house at night. They may well have had a legitimate reason to detain S., as well, but we have no idea what that reason is. The disappearance of the money and gold after the search, however, indicates a case of looting. Again, IDF soldiers are allowed to confiscate property that may be suspected of being used, or possibly being used, in the committing of a crime. They must, however, supply the owners with a written confirmation of the confiscation. In the absence of a receipt, the assumption should be that we are dealing with looting. Mansour heard from her daughter-in-law, S.’s wife, that 8,000 NIS ($2,120) were also stolen from his house (on the lower floor of the building) during the very same search. However, we do not have a direct testimony regarding that claim.
Looting is a war crime. Although Israeli military law does not call it that by name, it nevertheless carries a punishment of 10 years in prison. This isn’t the first case of looting on part of the IDF that we know of. We documented one case in February 2013, in which soldiers vandalized a home and looted money from it. In September 2013 we documented a case in which soldiers burst into a house (the wrong one, as it turned out) and vanished with a woman’s life savings.
The very violent Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank in 2014 included several cases of looting. One of them, a year ago, looks like a direct copy of Mansour’s story. Soldiers burst into a house to look for weapons, didn’t find them, and made off with gold. In another case, in which the soldiers acted as if they had come for the sole purpose of confiscating money (they left no receipt) one of the soldiers broke a child’s piggy bank and stole its contents. In yet another case, the soldiers came to a house, took the money – which turned out to be tax money paid by the townspeople – and told the owner he would receive a receipt from the police; the latter didn’t know what he was talking about. In another instance of looting, soldiers took an envelope full of money that had been hidden by the homeowner on her body, while also stealing hundreds of shekels from her purse. This is just a partial list of cases of looting, which also took place during Operation Protective Edge (for which the MAG ordered several indictments), and the looting of the Mavi Marmara detainees in 2010 (Hebrew). Earlier examples can be seen here.
Therefore when the soldiers of the most moral army in the world claim that they are not thieves, we cannot take them at their word.
Looting cannot be excused; and what we cannot excuse, we suppress. When we suppress, we become silent partners to a war crime.
So here it is, in full view. Do with it as you will; you can no longer say, however, that you did not know.
Our attorney, Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, sent a complaint in late June to the Operational Affairs Attorney, Lt. Col. Adoram Riegler, demanding an urgent investigation both of the soldiers and of their commanders (who have command responsibility, which MP-CID often ignores.) We will keep you posted on developments, although history cautions us not to expect too much from the military justice system.