The commando force departs at dawn - an intelligence unit equipped with walkie-talkies and sunglasses. After a final briefing from the operation's commander, the troops head for the field and set up roadblocks. The commanders hunker down in the war room, poised for incoming communiques. At 8:30 A.M., Force 101 gets its hands on a big fish, as the Yedioth Ahronoth reporter invited to cover the operation so colorfully puts it.
This fish is not a Hamas suicide bomber but the manager of a top-of-the-pops Mizrahi singer, and the commandos, as you've probably figured out, are the taxmen. Their mission is not to blow up lathes in Beit Hanun but to ambush drivers on the road, catch tax debtors and impound their cars.
The income tax and VAT people have gone back to their untargeted killings: They randomly stop cars on the road to hunt down their victims. As if we don't have enough traffic jams due to accidents, rush hour and bomb alerts, they're at it again, blocking roads and sorting us out - who shall go free and who shall say goodbye to his wheels. If you're behind on your taxes, you walk home. Or, as Yedioth Ahronoth quoted one of the kind-hearted commandos: "Now you can chase us."
In this newspaper over a decade ago, I had some harsh things to say about this perverted system of tax collection, which is more appropriate for a totalitarian state. Everyone in this country has an address, and if someone can be tracked down in his car, he can also be tracked down at home or in his office. This disgraceful spectacle of people, in a hurry to get to work or a meeting or whatever, being detained on the road for several hours, is downright humiliating.
A friend of mine who saw a bunch of policemen and inspectors poking around a car on the other side of the highway was sure it was a "Prepare Your Car for Winter" crew. The poor unsuspecting fellow made a U-turn, got on line for a free inspection, and found himself riding home to Tel Aviv by bus. Later, it turned out the VAT people had made a mistake, but it was a long and painful process until he got his car back. When it comes to tax collectors, the justice system operates in reverse: A person is guilty until proven innocent.
The tax authority's explanation for this road ambush system is that impounding someone's car is more "humane" than bursting into his house and seizing his property in front of the wife and kids. It's like saying: What's more humane - the electric chair or a lethal injection? After questions of legality came up, this practice was temporarily suspended. But then it was resumed, almost in sync with the intifada, at the end of 2001.
The issue of legality, or whether this is proper way to do things, has never been resolved. Two years ago, a complaint was submitted to the attorney general on the grounds that this method of tax collection is in violation of the law which permits property to be confiscated from the yard of a tax evader. The truth of the matter is that Israelis are in love with their cars, especially if they're worth a lot, which is why the taxmen think this is the best way of getting them to pay their debts. The bailiff's office has adopted the notorious advice of General Evelyn Barker in the days of the British Mandate, who recommended "hitting the Jews in their pockets."
Impounding cars may be more profitable, but the tax collection authorities have no qualms about brutally breaking into people's apartments to confiscate property, whether they're home or not. This way or that, the tenants are forced to foot the bill for the lock-picker and the haulage company, even if turns out that they are pure as the driven snow. The motto of the taxmen is always the same: the burden of proof - of your innocence and our mistake - is on you. No excuses or explanations accepted.
The intolerable ease with which the authorities are able to stick their hands into the pockets, homes, property and bank accounts of the citizen is infuriating. The repossession authorities may not get to the real sharks, but the system is well-oiled when it comes to collecting debts. In comparison, when the ordinary citizen tries to collect monies coming to him, even by order of the court, the legal apparatus at his disposal is either powerless or unwilling to help.
This cat-and-mouse game on the roads, whether it involves tax debtors or foreign workers, is not enforcement of the law. It is a brutal perversion of it.
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