The state must reimburse a Palestinian who said more than NIS 100,000 was stolen from his Tul Karm home during a search by soldiers in 2002, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled.
The court ruled in favor of Samih Abu Bakr, who claimed Nahal brigade soldiers stole NIS 111,860 in cash from his home - NIS 60,000 in Israeli currency and $10,000 in U.S. currency. The money had been in a safe, and was connected to his business, he said.
The Justice Ministry said the ruling would be appealed. The court failed to address several matters that would absolve the army of responsibility, including the fact that the court did not rule explicitly that the soldiers had stolen the money, it said.
The theft occurred during an operation to capture an armed terrorist. The Israeli forces ordered Tul Karm residents to leave their homes, and then went inside to search. They did not find their man, however, and withdrew from the West Bank town.
When Abu Bakr went back into his house, he found the safe had been broken and the money taken. He filed a complaint with the military police. Soldiers were questioned in the case, but the file was ultimately closed.
He then petitioned the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court through the Israeli human rights organization Center for the Defense of the Individual.
The state responded that Abu Bakr had failed to prove that he had had that much money at his home, and that no one else had stolen it. The state also contended that it was not liable for theft by soldiers.
At the trial, soldiers who took part in the operation said they had seen unusually large sums of money in a closet, and therefore the commander ordered one of the soldiers to guard the cash. The soldiers adamantly denied stealing it.
Magistrate's Court Judge Irit Cohen rejected all of the state's arguments and ruled that Abu Bakr's testimony was credible and supported by additional testimony, including the soldiers' testimony.
Cohen said the soldiers had given conflicting testimony, and not all the soldiers involved had been questioned by the military police or in court, which hurt the state's case.
Although she did not explicitly state that a soldier had committed theft, she did rule the money had been stolen.
"The home was under the complete and exclusive control of the soldiers after they removed [Abu Bakr] and his family. That imposes a duty upon them and the state with regard to property left at the site," Cohen wrote in her ruling. She ordered the state to reimburse Abu Bakr and also awarded legal expenses.
The Justice Ministry responded that at most, the state's liability should be limited to negligence on the part of the soldiers for not guarding the house and that the military police investigation did not conclude that the soldiers had stolen the money.
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