Gaza Councils Complain of Looting by Officials

There has been massive looting of property belonging to the Gaza Coast Regional Council by public agencies, nonprofit organizations, individuals and even other local councils, ever since the Gaza settlements were evacuated, the regional council's liquidator charged in a complaint filed with the police yesterday.

Dozens of computers and trash cans, entire caravans and even lampposts have been looted, attorney Shahar Ben-Ami said in his complaint.

Similar looting has been reported by the Gaza Religious Council and the local councils of three evacuated settlements: Nisanit, Neveh Dekalim and Kadim, which is in the West Bank. Neveh Dekalim, for instance, lost an entire computer classroom containing more than 30 computers, as well as air conditioners and trash cans.

The Israel Defense Forces has remained in the evacuated settlements to demolish the houses, and is supposed to be preventing looting. In practice, however, so many civilians have been allowed in to help clear belongings out of the houses prior to their demolition that looters have found it easy to slip in under the guise of volunteers assisting in this task.

One person involved in organized looting of the settlements told Haaretz yesterday: "All the equipment is already gone, it's all been liquidated. Either the tractors destroyed it or we took it away. Anything of value we've already sold, either to contractors, or [local] councils came and took it. There's nothing left to take; what's left is just the junk."

Asked whether one could buy the regional council's computers, he responded: "The computers are in warehouses, that's not for now. Their time will come ... First we'll finish the evacuation, then we'll sell the computers."

Ben-Ami said that regional council workers who are assisting him have recorded some of the looters' license plates to help the police track them down. He said he has also asked the army to be more careful, both in issuing entry permits to volunteers and in checking cars when they leave the evacuated settlements.

"How is it possible that it is forbidden to enter the [Gaza] Strip, but everyone comes in and removes equipment?" he demanded.

Some of the big items, such as trash cans and lampposts, are thought to have been stolen by other local councils inside Israel, on the theory that the evacuated settlers no longer need this equipment, and it should not be left for the Palestinians. However, the liquidator is supposed to be selling such items to settle the disbanded regional council's debts.

Government ministries are also suspected of having looted certain items, including kindergarten equipment.

The Disengagement Administration (Sela) said in response that it is not involved in this matter; the evacuated settlements are the defense establishment's responsibility. The IDF Spokesman said that as soon as the evacuation began, it stepped up security in the Gaza settlements. Today, there are more than 20 patrol vehicles and 400 policemen and military policemen permanently stationed there. "The few incidents of theft are being dealt with severely, and have caused the IDF to make the procedures for entering the [settlement] bloc more stringent, such that movers and private citizens are not allowed to enter," it added.

Ben-Ami also said that the liquidator would examine all documentation issued by the regional council regarding the size of evacuated settlers' houses, following Haaretz's revelation that the council had inflated the size of some houses to gain the settlers higher compensation.