How Israeli soldiers are engaged in widespread looting in Gaza
During Israel’s three-month war on Gaza, there have been dozens of reports from Palestinian residents regarding the systematic theft of cash, gold, laptops, and mobile phones by Israeli soldiers, estimated at a value of $25 million.
Valuable personal belongings, including money and other assets, have been seized by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. At the same time, the homes, stores, and businesses of Palestinians forced to flee have been robbed, according to monitoring by field researchers at Palestinian rights groups.
“The value of what’s been reported to be looted points to a widespread practice,” Tahseen Elayyan, a legal researcher at Ramallah-based human rights organisation Al-Haq, told The New Arab. “Israeli occupying authorities justify this under the pretext that the money belongs to Hamas.”
Besides unleashing a brutal air and ground assault on the blockaded enclave since October, the Israeli military has engaged in abusive activities - from raiding residential areas and vandalising private homes to looting businesses and civilian properties.
"The value of what's been reported to be looted points to a widespread practice"
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reported at the end of December on several cases in which Israeli troops took part in or witnessed the deliberate theft of assets and money from Palestinian civilians, including items like computers, jewellery, and large amounts of cash.
Based on testimonies, the NGO’s team initially estimated that the Israeli military may have stolen valuable possessions worth tens of millions of dollars, on top of stealing personal belongings from Gazans.
“We’ve documented dozens of cases of looting,” Maha Hussaini, director of strategies at Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor and a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza, told The New Arab. “Many residents reported that Israeli soldiers took their belongings, others saw their belongings with Israeli soldiers on TikTok.”
The documented incidents indicate that such crimes may point to the intentional destruction of property, stealing of personal items, and looting and burning of homes as part of a “systematic strategy” clearly based on collective punishment of the Palestinian population, according to the monitoring group.
Rights groups operating in Gaza have documented these criminal acts based on first-hand information and testimonies collected from victims, families and/or eyewitnesses.
Among the Palestinians cited by the rights observatory, Thabet Salim said Israeli soldiers stormed his house in the south of Gaza City, abducted him and his two sons, and then stole all of the gold and cash that was in his property.
Another resident, Umm Muhammad Gharbiyya, told the group that Israeli troops forcibly took her jewellery after violently breaking into her family home in the eastern part of Gaza City and arresting her husband and oldest son.
Hussein Al-Tanani, a resident from the north of Gaza City who took shelter from Israeli attacks in a nearby UN school with his family, said that his computer and large sums of cash were stolen after soldiers raided his home.
Adding further evidence to such testimonies, Israeli soldiers have repeatedly filmed themselves committing crimes, posting the videos on social media platforms while often bragging about their actions.
Hussaini observed that soldiers filming themselves looting civilian property has been an “Israeli practice” from the onset of the ground invasion. “It appears to be a practice driven by a desire of revenge taken against the civilian population,” she noted.
In one video clip, an Israeli soldier appeared showing off a stolen silver necklace from Gaza to take back to his girlfriend.
In another incident, Palestinian musician Hamada Nasrallah said he was shocked to discover in a TikTok video that an Israeli soldier had stolen and was playing his guitar on the rubble of his destroyed home in northern Gaza.
"Many residents reported that Israeli soldiers took their belongings, others saw their belongings with Israeli soldiers on TikTok"
The guitar was a gift from his father who died after Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza. “Isn't it enough that they take away our loved ones, our homes, our families, and even our music and memories? Where does the injustice stop?!” he wrote in a post on Instagram.
“Israeli soldiers filming themselves while carrying out the looting and rejoicing at the destruction and killing of Palestinians is an integral part of the evidence that proves intent to destroy,” Al-Haq’s researcher Elayyan said.
In more evidence of looting, one Israeli woman shared a post on a popular Facebook group in December with a photo of make-up products seized from stores in Gaza by her boyfriend, an Israeli soldier.
A Palestinian woman in Nuseirat refugee camp, meanwhile, recounted in January how Israeli soldiers abducted her and her daughter from their home, stripped them naked, and stole 10,000 shekels (around $2,640), gold, and mobile phones from them.
Hebrew-language newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth has acknowledged some of these crimes, publishing news reports on the so-called “loot unit” in the Israeli army’s technology and logistics branch. It confirmed that, since the ground incursion into Gaza began, the Israeli army had seized sums of money exceeding five million shekels (roughly $1,320,000). The Israeli daily described such acts as a “systematic theft of the money of the Gazans”.
In late November, the Israeli press also reported on the confiscation of vast amounts of funds during land operations in the Gaza Strip, which were transferred to the finance department of the Ministry of Defence to be deposited in the state treasury.
There has been no comment from Israeli authorities on the allegations.
The Israeli army has so far only put out one statement in December in response to videos and photos of Israeli soldiers behaving in a derogatory manner, pledging to take action in what it said are a handful of isolated cases.
“In any event that does not align with IDF values, command and disciplinary steps will be taken,” the Israeli military’s spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
“In every Israeli military operation, we have Palestinian accounts of Israeli vandalism, cruelty, looting and the like,” Laleh Khalili, an academic and researcher at the University of Exeter who has researched Israeli military activities, told TNA.
She underscored the long-running impunity the Israeli army enjoys while engaging in such unlawful activities. “This military acts in the vilest ways because they know that nothing they do will have any negative consequences of any kind for them,” Khalili added.
"In every Israeli military operation, we have Palestinian accounts of Israeli vandalism, cruelty, looting and the like"
The practice of looting by Israeli soldiers is not new. During previous military offensives in the Gaza Strip between 2008 and 2021 several instances of theft from Palestinian individuals and homes were documented. In one incident, an elite Israeli soldier confessed to stealing a credit card from a home in northern Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and later withdrawing NIS 1,600 ($405) in Israel.
Similar cases have been recorded in the occupied West Bank. During a campaign of mass arrests in 2014, Palestinians reported numerous incidents of looting by Israeli military and police who conducted daily raids on homes, charities, and businesses, stealing cash and property with an estimated value of $3 million, according to Euro-Med Monitor.
The prohibition of stealing property is a well-established principle in international law. Pillage is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and it amounts to a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist currently based in Tunis.
Follow her on Twitter: @AlessandraBajec