Reportage. Families are almost never given documents recording the type and value of confiscated assets, making it impossible to claim them back or file an appeal in a court of law.

Israeli soldiers are raiding Palestinians’ homes, stealing money and jewelry

It happened three times in a few days in a small Palestinian community on the outskirts of Ramallah, according to the same playbook: in late January, between 1 and 2 a.m., a group of 15-20 soldiers (only one with his face covered, fluent in Arabic) raided the homes of a political detainee and two former prisoners. This happens often, but this time the reason was different: to confiscate cars, money and jewelry.

“Before, if they found a few hundred shekels, the soldiers would pocket them. Now they come on a mission. They ravaged the kitchen: they opened the cupboard doors, took one plate at a time and smashed it on the floor. They cut the couch cushions and opened the boxes of the roller shutters. They repeatedly told us to give them money and jewelry. After an hour and a half, they confiscated our car,” Nura tells us about that sleepless night and her devastated home.

She fared better than others: before leaving, the soldiers gave her a document with information about the car. Ghassan was left with nothing at all. He has been a longtime detainee, arrested at various points and spending a total of 13 years in prison.

“They stayed for a couple of hours. They opened the windows and threw the furniture out. They told me to give them the money and gold, that it was better if I brought it out because if they found it, it would be worse. They took a thousand shekels and my car. They said I bought it with terrorist money.”

Then there was Lara, who lives next door to Ghassan. They locked her in a room with her two daughters, one soldier guarding the door while others ravaged room after room: “They had dogs. One of them terrorized my daughters, barking at them. They stole 2,000 shekels from us” – the equivalent of €500.

One hears similar stories at the the Dheisheh refugee camp: “Since October 7, no one sleeps in peace, the army comes in every night. They arrest and steal. As if being jobless was not enough.” Haitham is the older brother of a newly-released prisoner; he recounts greeting him upon his return after two and a half months in jail: “He had a long beard and long hair, his clothes worn out, red marks on his neck. He’d lost a lot of weight. He was there in front of me, sitting in a chair, and he wouldn’t stop shaking.”

His family also received an overnight visit from the army. They took away almost 3,000 shekels, just over €750. There are many cases, but there is no accurate overall figure, the Addameer NGO for the protection of political prisoners tells us. It has recorded dozens of incidents, but can only catalog the complaints that reach its office.

“In general, they search the homes of people still in prison,” Addameer explains. “They don’t conduct arrests but confiscate money, cars and jewelry. The justification is always the same: these are supposedly assets used to finance terrorist activities or derived from terrorist activities. However, the soldiers don’t show up with any court order or official documents. They take away whatever they find, leaving no written record.”

Families are almost never given documents recording the type and value of confiscated assets, making it impossible to claim them back or file an appeal in a court of law.

“This is a common, longstanding practice,” the NGO says. “The same thing happened during the Second Intifada. This time it’s worse: at that time, mass arrests and house thefts began a year after the uprising started, in 2002, when the Israeli army physically re-entered Palestinian cities. Today it’s happening at a time when there are no popular protests or armed clashes.”

This is not confined to the West Bank, but also happens in Jerusalem in other forms. The targets are former political prisoners, those to whom the Palestinian National Authority pays a monthly compensation, calculated based on the years spent behind bars and their age. “Here, Israel has different powers: it has direct jurisdiction over the banks,” Addameer concludes. “It confiscates money directly from the bank accounts of former prisoners and then closes them.”

The Palestinians are openly calling it theft, through unofficial and official channels. In late December, in coordinated raids in Jenin, Tulkarem, Jericho, Ramallah, Hebron and Halhul, the Israeli army raided six PNA-linked currency exchangers, with dozens of military jeeps, tear gas and explosives to blow up safes, leading to 21 arrests and the seizure of $2.5 million.

According to Tel Aviv, the money was intended for Hamas in the West Bank, and those offices were terrorist organizations, as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed at the time.

And then there is Gaza. Here, too, the policy of appropriation operates on multiple levels, both institutional and individual. Three days ago, according to the Israeli daily Maariv, the Israeli army confiscated 200 milion shekels from the headquarters of the Bank of Palestine in the al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, equivalent to just over €50 million.

An army spokesman was quoted as saying that those funds were headed to the PNA but would have gone to Hamas. This was likely the money with which the Authority has been paying civil servants’ salaries since the 1990s, since well before the start of the de facto Hamas government in the Strip.

“The occupation has always made economic sense for Israel. It pays for itself, and actually turns a profit: they take our natural resources, they export military technologies, they steal our money,” says Haitham.

The soldiers are pocketing some of it. With the ground offensive in Gaza, many soldiers have used social media to show raids on now-empty homes and looting: necklaces as gifts to girlfriends, fine carpets, bicycles, watches, money, computers.

A few days ago, north of Gaza, a soldier was interviewed by an Israeli TV station as he carried a mirror on his shoulder. In another video, a young woman is applying make-up that her partner stole from a perfume shop in the Strip. Others film themselves looting stores, destroying whatever they don’t need and isn’t valuable enough, or setting fire to food boxes.

It is hard to estimate the value of the possessions stolen from families killed in raids or forced to flee with nothing while bombs were raining down. In other cases, the thefts occurred during arrests, in homes and shelters, as several witnesses told the NGO Euro-Med.

There are also those who recognize their possessions in the videos, such as the musician Hamada Nasrallah, as reported by The New Arab: he saw his guitar in a video on TikTok, played by a soldier among the remains of a razed house. His father had given it to him after the 2014 Israeli offensive.

According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the army has reportedly confiscated five million shekels in cash, €1.3 million, in what it calls a “systematic theft,” confirmed by the eyewitness account of a military doctor stationed in Gaza: “It starts with mattresses and dishes. It continues with toys, phones, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles… I felt ashamed.”

This is not a new practice: it happened in 2008 with Operation Cast Lead and in 2014 with Operation Protective Edge. For Palestinians, it is a continuation of the plunder – of land, livelihoods, objects of daily life, memories — that has been going on for seven decades.

(Names have been changed for safety reasons).

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