Ahmed Musalah was supposed to be married today, Friday, March 13, in the Burhan banquet hall in his village, Az-Zawiya. About 2,000 guests were invited, almost the entire village, which is in the northern West Bank, and the plan was for them to celebrate with the bride and groom into the wee hours of the night.
Musalah is a good-looking man of 30 with a nicely trimmed beard; his bride, Hoda, is also from Az-Zawiya. Everything was set for the big day; after all, there are few other occasions for rejoicing here. All that had to be done beforehand was to pay – in cash, as is the custom among Palestinians in the West Bank – for the hall, a beauty parlor for the bride and a suit for the groom.
But last Wednesday night, March 4, the couple’s dream of a happy wedding was shattered abruptly. Large numbers of Israel Defense Forces troops swooped into Musalah’s house and confiscated all his money, 13,000 shekels (about $3,700), which, he tells us, was earmarked to pay for the wedding. “Mabruk, mabruk” – some of the soldiers mockingly congratulated the would-be groom, as he tried to explain to the commander of the confiscation operation that the money was for his wedding.
On Sunday, after much agonizing, he decided to call off the wedding, or at least to postpone it indefinitely – he’s not sure, he says. In any event, there’s no way to pay for it.
On that same Wednesday night last week, an IDF unit invaded a different house in the village, where they confiscated tens of thousands of shekels from two brothers, Rafat and Alian Mukadi, on the grounds that it was “terrorist money.” Alian is an engineer and a businessman; his money was earmarked for payment for an industrial machine he’d purchased in Tel Aviv and was planning to sell in the village – we saw the receipts and the authorization documents – but that made no difference to the soldiers. They took all the money. Nor did it make a difference for Rafat, who showed the troops documents attesting to his sale of land in the village on behalf of their his uncle, who lives in Jordan. The soldiers took all the money from that transaction, too – all plundered in the name of the state.
The sum total seized that fateful night in Az-Zawiya was 51,262 shekels ($14,645), from the homes of Musalah and the Mukadis. Theirs is a fairly small village in the Salfit district, not far from the Green Line, near the towns of Biddya and Mas’ha. All three are known for their extensive commercial ties to Israel. But now, in Az-Zawiya, the spate of disturbing and disgraceful tasks carried out by Israeli soldiers in their mission as policemen of the occupation has sunk to this: operating as bailiffs and plunderers on behalf of their handlers from the Shin Bet security service, for whom they act as subcontractors.
Rafat Mukadi, 40 years old and the father of two, is waiting for us in the living room of his home. In 2016, he was released after serving a 14-year sentence in an Israeli prison, but he has yet to find a proper job. On October 11, 2002, at the height of the second intifada, he donned an explosive belt and traveled to Tel Aviv to carry out a suicide attack. He says he entered a random, crowded restaurant along the promenade, he doesn’t remember its name, and was going to blow himself up. But then he saw “normal human beings,” in his words. One of them was a young mother with her daughter sitting opposite her and a baby in her arms. That image was the clincher. At the last moment, he backed off, ran into the street, was hit by a car, arrested, tried and convicted. The prosecution asked for a life sentence, but after he proved his contrition he was given a 14-year term.
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About a month after his release, he married Aslam, from a village near Nablus. Mukadi, muscular and stocky, says he’s tried his hand at all kinds of jobs, but has had a hard time adjusting to life these last years; he and his family live off an allowance the Palestinian Authority pays to released prisoners. He has decided to devote his life solely to himself and his family, and to avoid all political or other public activities. About half a year after his release, army and Shin Bet personnel came to his house to check on him, but they had not returned since – until last Wednesday night.
At 1:30 A.M. he was in the living room with his eldest son, 3-year-old Mohammed, who had woken up. Baby Nur a-Din was asleep with his mother in the other room. Suddenly Rafat heard noises outside. He lives on the third floor of the family house; Alian, 29, lives on the first floor with his wife and their 2-year-old son.
The soldiers entered Alian’s apartment, and a few minutes later, they ordered him to call Rafat to come down. Alian was sitting in the living room, surrounded by soldiers, male and female, some of them masked. Alian studied engineering in Cyprus, and when he returned home he was placed in administrative detention – incarceration without a trial – for a year, although he was never told why. About a month ago, Alian was summoned to the Eyal checkpoint for a meeting with “Marjan,” the Shin Bet agent who’s in charge of the region; their meeting lasted two hours. “Why not work with us?” Marjan suggested. According to Alian, Marjan tried to recruit him to be a collaborator, but he refused. Marjan threatened him: “Even in another 100 years, you won’t be able to go abroad.” Then, last Wednesday, soldiers entered Alian’s apartment.
At first they said they had come in connection with a stolen car. Then they said to Alian, “There’s too much money in your house.” The commanding officer announced that the troops would search the premises, and asked Alian if he had money in the house. Alian replied, “Hey, are you asking me about rifles? Of course there’s money in the house. Is that forbidden? You don’t have money in your house? It’s normal. Everyone keeps money at home.” The officer told Alian to bring it to him; there were 32,000 shekels ($9,140) in packets with rubber bands around them, and another 2,600 shekels in loose cash.
During our visit, Alian explains that he buys various sorts of industrial machines for clients in the territories. He shows the relevant document from a recent transaction to Abdulkarim Sadi, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, who is accompanying us. Alian says he showed the same things to the IDF officer: an agreement for the sale of a CNC plasma cutting machine (used for precision cutting of various types of metals), on behalf of a client named Bashar Daraas. Alian shows us a video clip demonstrating the workings of the Italian-made machine, which costs 114,000 shekels. Daraas paid an advance of 18,000 shekels for it, and another 32,000 shekels – the exact sum arranged in the packets – when the contract was signed on March 2. Two days before the nighttime raids in Az-Zawiya.
The officer perused the contract and consulted on the phone with Shin Bet agent Marjan, before proceeding to confiscate Alian’s money. Why are you taking it, he demanded. The officer replied only that it was illegal. If it’s not legal, Alian pressed him, why don’t you arrest me? That question did not get an answer, perhaps because there was no answer. Another question without an answer is how Alian is suppoed to conduct business from now on, as transactions are generally done in cash in the territories.
In the meantime, Rafat had come downstairs, where he was ordered by the officer to return to his apartment and come back with all of his money. “We have information that you have $8,170 in your house,” the officer said, threatening to conduct a search. But searches were not carried out in either apartment. Rafat brought down his wife’s handbag with all the cash they had: 3,000 Jordanian dinars ($4,230) and another 800 shekels. The officer left him 200 shekels ($57) “for humanitarian reasons” and took the rest.
Naim Kadad, Rafat’s refugee uncle in Jordan, owned a plot of land in Az-Zawiya and had asked his nephew some time ago to sell it and send him the proceeds. Rafat made the sale and wired the money via Western Union, in stages. He shows us the agreement for the sale, to Ahmed Abd al-Al from Qalqilyah, dated September 16, 2019. He also has the power-of-attorney document from Kadad. Now he shows us the Western Union receipts: payments of 1,400 dinars on December 29, another 2,100 dinars the next day, 2,000 more on January 8, 2020, and 2,000 on February 19. One final amount was to be wired, Alian tells us – the money that was confiscated.
The soldiers left at 4 A.M.
The bridegroom whose wedding was cancelled, Ahmed Musalah, shows up in Alian’s home during our visit. He works in a furniture store in Biddya and he, too, served time in an Israeli prison, from 2013 to 2017 – but is not willing to tell us why, saying he’s forgotten. He woke up at night to the sight of soldiers in his living room, questioning his father, Hamdan. At first the soldiers said they had come to search for weapons, but no search was carried out in his home, either. They only wanted money. As the officer counted out the 13,000 shekels in cash, Musalah tried to explain that it was for his wedding. The officer left him, as with Rafat, 200 shekels “for humane purposes.” Half an hour after they arrived, the soldiers departed with the money.
Asked about the raid, the IDF Spokesman’s Office gave this statement to Haaretz: “On the night between March 3 and March 4, 2020, an operation was carried out to seize terrorist funds in the village of Azawiya [sic]. The seizure was carried out under the law that applies in the region, and involved a sum that was equivalent to the amount of money the Palestinians received from the Hamas terrorist organization. The IDF will continue it campaign against the transfer of terrorist funds in the area in order to prevent and deter the maintenance of ties of any sort with the Hamas organization.”