The Army Has Changed

The Palestinians have concluded that the IDF has gone through a major change. Human rights activists and ordinary people say they never encountered soldiers who stole out of homes during the first intifada.

Dr. Mohammed Batrawi, a cardiologist and department chief at the Ramallah Hospital, found the following letter in his private clinic, written in English, and on his stationery: "Dear Dr. Batrawi, Staying in this office building with the Israeli military forces, I have used the facilities of your office to examine and treat ill Palestinians and soldiers. I did my best to avoid damaging your office and I hope no major damage occurred. Yours, Dr. A.W. (the full name is known - A.H.), Israeli Army."

Batrawi found the letter after his eyes adjusted to the chaos left behind in his clinic, which as luck would have it, is located in a tall building overlooking an El Bireh intersection, and was used by IDF soldiers as a base last week. EKG results were strewn all over, a stethoscope, sphygmomanometer and all his patients' medical files were scattered across the floor. The EKG machine was broken, the furniture from his clinic was scattered throughout the apartment, and furniture he didn't recognize had been brought in. Remnants of battle rations were everywhere.

Batrawi did not mind that his clinic was used, nor that medicines were taken from the drawers. Several Palestinians were held in the building by the Israelis - the concierge's family, and some workers and executives in offices on other floors. They were from Jerusalem and were stuck in Ramallah until the Israelis left. They told him that the Israeli doctor did examine them when they felt bad and even reprimanded the soldiers who threatened them with their rifles, demanding cigarettes.

But Batrawi, like many residents of Ramallah, found it difficult to understand why the soldiers and their commanding officers left behind such scenes of vandalism, and he wonders if the doctor simply did not have the moral strength to prevent the soldiers from behaving that way in the clinic.

Batrawi does not want to say that the soldiers took his computer because he was at the hospital when the soldiers left and did not get home for a few hours, when the house was wide open and anyone could have entered. But the people from Lemix, which deals in medical equipment and has offices a floor above Batrawi in the building, have no doubt it was the soldiers and nobody else, who left with many of their medical instruments, as well as the hard disks from their computers. The soldiers vandalized other machinery - and precisely $5,017 and NIS 17,800 in cash was missing when the soldiers left. The company's executives arrived as the soldiers were leaving, and checked.

These kinds of reports are coming in from residents of dozens of buildings that the IDF has occupied in the past year in places like Hebron, Beit Jala, Tul Karm, refugee camps and Ramallah. Refugees who had a few hundred shekels in a wallet or pocket discover it disappeared during a search; computer company executives of Palestinian-American background, Christian and Muslim, workers in Palestinian Authority offices, and executives from private consulting companies that work with Israeli companies all have similar tales. Is everyone lying when they report the thefts and vandalism?

The standard response from the IDF Spokesman's office is that they are not familiar with the complaints, which will be investigated if and when formal complaints are filed with the joint liaison offices. Some Palestinians have filed complaints, others plan to do so, but no Palestinians believe that the IDF will seriously investigate.

The Palestinians have concluded that the IDF has gone through a major change. Human rights activists and ordinary people say they never encountered soldiers who stole out of homes during the first intifada. In recent days, as Ramallah residents paid condolence calls on families with relatives killed during the incursion, the topic of the day was what kind of army allows its soldiers commit vandalism. After all, a tank bumping into an electric pole or even running over a car is not the same as a soldier deliberately smashing a television owned by a family with four children. Damage caused by shooting is not the same as that done by a group of soldiers (in al-Amari refugee camp, they left behind graffiti on the wall saying "it's Nahal, not Golani") who vandalize a home, or, in one case, smashed two pairs of spectacles owned by an elderly man in front of him and then walked out with a video camera owned by his daughter, who pays for her schooling as a photographer at parties.

In Ramallah, people are speculating about this new behavior. Some say it's compensation for the soldiers' fear and frustration, and their commanding officers allow it to let the soldiers blow off steam. Others read somewhere that there are a lot of poor soldiers. Some say that the IDF is now a "rabble," with soldiers from many countries.

People do notice the soldiers who behave humanely, "cultured," as they say in Ramallah, but draw the conclusion that those soldiers and officers have no influence over those who find the opportunity in both the well-appointed offices of Ramallah and the shabby hovels of the refugee camps, to destroy, vandalize, and even steal.