In Some of the Israeli Army's Raids, Leaving Empty-handed Is Not an Option

The army is playing a new role in the territories: As a bailiff, raiding homes in the dead of night and confiscating TVs, computers, toasters – even earrings.

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Abu al-Haija family home in Jenin
Abu al-Haija family home in Jenin Credit: Alex Levac

Following is the list of items the Israel Defense Forces confiscated one night last week in the home of the Abu al-Haija family in the Jenin refugee camp: two televisions, one microwave oven, 10 protective coverings for olive trees, four watches, two gold chains, a pair of earrings, six tablet devices, two computers, 20 cell phones and one 2013 Seat Ibiza.

A large force of dozens of armed soldiers, most of them masked, raided the house without warning last Thursday, blowing up and bursting through the door at 3:30 A.M., and remaining on the premises for the next two hours. Not far away, in the city of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, another force, just as daring and determined, it seems, raided another house and left with a bundle of goods.

Just when it seems that we’ve seen it all when it comes to life under occupation, the authorities come up with new draconian measures, some even more grotesque than those that preceded them. Now the IDF has begun to function as a debt collector in the gray market.

Meet the IBF: The Israel Bailiffs Force. Its soldiers are risking their lives and putting the lives of others at risk, terrorizing children and the elderly in ridiculous operations that target toasters for confiscation. Yes, it’s that grotesque. They come to confiscate cash, which they suspect comes from Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and when they don’t find money they seize everything in sight. Leaving empty-handed is not an option.

We are well acquainted with the home of the Abu al-Haija family. We first visited it 13 years ago. Both parents were then in prison, and their five children had the run of the house, stunned and abandoned to their fate. The father of the family, Sheikh Jamal Abu al-Haija, who lost an arm in the IDF’s large-scale invasion of the camp year earlier, had been sentenced to nine life terms for his part in dispatching a suicide terrorist who perpetrated a lethal attack at Meron Junction in Upper Galilee in 2002. His wife, Asmaa, was jailed for nine months without trial and without an explanation. The eldest son, Abed al-Salam, was also in prison, serving an 87-month sentence for his involvement in Hamas, and the younger were left at home with the birdcage.

Abu al-Haija family store in JeninCredit: Alex Levak

This is a hard-core Hamas family. Sheikh Jamal was head of the movement in the refugee camp. Their house was destroyed in the army’s invasion in 2002 and rebuilt a short time later; it has several floors, to accommodate the parents and the married sons and their families. The youngest of the children remaining at home, Hamzi, who was then 11, was killed 11 years later, after having been on Israel’s wanted list. The soldiers came to arrest and kill him, about two years ago. We met with him a few days before he was liquidated. Since then, we haven’t been back to the house, which is perched on the slopes of the refugee camp.

The family’s home is now a mausoleum for the dead son and brother, and a museum for the father who is incarcerated for life and is not allowed visitors even from the family. Large posters and olive-wood commemorative plaques are everywhere in the living room, featuring pictures of the bearded father, who observes the room from every angle, and of the shattered face of the son at his death.

All the sons are now out of prison: Amad got out two months ago, after being incarcerated for 18 months, and Assam was released four months ago, after serving a 20-month term. Abed al-Salam is also free. Sheikh Jamal is in Eshel Prison, in Be’er Sheva. Hamzi is dead. (There is also a sister.)

Two months ago, Assam opened a cell-phone store in the front part of the house, called Abu al-Haija Communications. Now the store is empty and shuttered – there is nothing to sell. Assam took the phones and other items home every night, and the IDF troops found them and confiscated them all. The family says that the raiding party consisted of between 60 and 70 soldiers. The children burst into tears. The soldiers hustled each brother into a separate room, taking one of them outside, before searching the entire house. They demanded to know where the money was hidden. They threatened the occupants, saying that if the money wasn’t found, they would blow up the house. According to the brothers, the soldiers offered no explanation for their actions and did not show a warrant. They turned the house upside down, throwing everything in the closets on the floor, ripping open two sofas with a knife, and smashing some glass objects. The family has photographs.

Finding no cash – other than 20 Jordanian dinars ($28) – the soldiers began to seize items and load them onto their vehicles, parked below in the street. The brothers demanded to speak to a Shin Bet security service officer, to understand what was going on, but their request was denied. The soldiers told them: “We are IDF and we have come to take these things. You can go to court.”

The force gave the family a handwritten form, listing what was taken, with an indecipherable signature scrawled at the bottom, without an identifying name of the commanding officer.

The form is titled (in Hebrew): “Annex V. Seizure order in Arabic.” It goes on to state (in Arabic): “Under the Defense (Emergency) Regulations 1945 and under Law 60 of the Orders Ordinance (Judea and Samaria) and according to security information in the possession of the defense establishment concerning Assam Abu al-Haija who in addition to receiving funds from the Hamas movement, had the above-mentioned property taken from him. You can appeal to the office of the legal adviser, at fax number To ascertain that the fax was received, call this number ” Printed below are the officer’s details, with some scribbles next to them, and the commander’s signature with more scribbling next to it, and then the signature of the person from whom the property was confiscated – where Assam Abu al-Haija wrote, “I do not agree.”

This is the fourth IDF raid on the family’s house since the brothers were released, but the first time property was confiscated. They have hired a lawyer and are waiting to hear what can be done to get their goods back.

At exactly the same time soldiers were loading the earrings of the Abu al-Haija family’s women onto their vehicles, another force arrived at the home of Majed Arukh, 24, who lives in Jenin. Arukh, who was married about 10 weeks ago, works in the city’s industrial zone, which is no more than a series of car-repair garages. Last year he spent six months in prison, after being found in possession of 900 dinars, which the Shin Bet claimed he received from Hamas. Arukh denied this, explaining that he received the money to pay for his tuition at Amman-based Al-Quds Open University, but he was convicted. It’s the only time in his life that he was tried or jailed.

The soldiers showed up after 3 A.M. First they entered the neighbors’ apartment, then went up to Arukh’s father’s apartment on the third floor, before finally finding the young man in his second-floor apartment. This was a smaller force, of some 20 soldiers, two of them women. Here, too, they blasted the door open. An IDF officer who identified himself as Rami Fares asked Arukh where the money was. He said he had no money at home. Officer Fares insisted that Arukh had received a large sum of money from Hamas, ahead of the municipal elections scheduled for October. Arukh asked his wife to bring all the cash they had in the apartment. She returned with 120 shekels ($31) and eight dinars ($11). Officer Fares declared that the soldiers would confiscate property in place of the money the troops didn’t find.

They took an LCD screen, two cellphones, two receivers, two WiFi routers, a toaster and a money box with coins in it. In return, Arukh, too, was handed “Annex V. Seizure order in Arabic,” listing the items taken. He says now that not everything was listed on the form. What will he do? “It’s up to God,” he replies.

A few hours after the Israeli soldiers left, representatives of the Palestinian Authority Preventive Security forces showed up. They told Arukh to accompany them and placed him in solitary confinement. “Have you come to finish what the Israelis started?” he asked them. They questioned him about why soldiers had come to his house. He was released four hours later.

Similar IDF property confiscation operations have taken place recently in nearby villages: In Burkin items were confiscated from the home of Mahmoud Abeidi, who is in prison, and also from homes in Silat al-Harithiya and in Jab’a.

Asked for comment, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued the following statement: The IDF operates on many levels against the terror organizations in Judea and Samaria. The fight includes capture and confiscation of terror funds being used to finance terror activities, and of property that is equivalent in value to the terror funds, from people who received such funds. It should be noted that every time either funds or property are captured, they are examined in detail. After the capture of property or money and before its confiscation, the owner is entitled to submit an objection.

“If they’d arrested us that would be one thing, but what they did here is theft,” says Assam Abu al-Haija. He knows that the soldiers will be back.

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