By Lauren Booth
This morning I set out to write a piece about the looting of the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza by your soldiers. As you may have read, an Israel Defence Forces officer has been remanded by a military court; he's suspected of stealing laptop computers from passengers on the ships. Interestingly, Haaretz newspaper now refers to the fleet as an "aid flotilla', which it was, not the "terror" fleet your leaders would have you believe.
But I digress. So there I was, all ready to write my piece, when I came across an article on ynet news which attempted to spell out the shock felt by some people about the looted goods. A senior Israel Defence Forces officer said of the flotilla thefts, "There must be a serious problem in the IDF in terms of values." I looked at those words for a long time and then decided to write this open letter rather than my original article because I can't help wondering who on earth still has any "shock" to spare at the behaviour of your military? I mean, really, come on guys. Beyond the comfortable avenues of Tel Aviv, the rest of the world finds the phrase "Israel's moral army" nothing short of a global (and sadly catastrophic) joke on the same level as, say, climate change denial or George Bush's presidency.
Now, I've done it again; I've made you really mad at me, but please give me a moment or two to explain why I'm writing this letter. I didn't set out to write this, nor do I want to insult you. Certainly no more than I have done in the past. I'm sitting here with washing-up to do and housework piling up, to ask you one question. As a mother and as a fellow human being I need to know why you don't see the evil that is being done in your name. How can you not see it?
As you may already know, I was on the first Free Gaza fleet of boats in 2008. This means that I not only have the pleasure of knowing personally the fine ladies who founded the Free Gaza Movement but also that I had many friends and colleagues on the Freedom Flotilla that was attacked by your military in May. You know, not one of those fine people is a terrorist, or wants to smuggle weapons to "extremists", or anybody else for that matter. Again, just for a second try to look at me as a mother and not an enemy. They are to the last person kind, concerned citizens of the world; people, who cannot go about their normal daily lives while your state, your army and your settlers torment other human beings every minute of every day, of every month, of every year, and have done for sixty-two years. I don't mean to be rude, but there comes a time when saying "I didn't know what was going on" wears a bit thin. Do you know what I mean? This whole charade about being "shocked" by your soldiers' bad behaviour makes non-Israelis, well, it makes us laugh, because the flotilla looting by your soldiers is not the first time this sort of things has happened, is it? Come on. Think about it. There have been an awful lot of other occasions, but if you need to be prompted let me help you.
Get to a computer and do a Google search for "IDF looting". You may (or may not) be surprised to get more than 64,000 results to plough through. Now before you cry "our enemies are telling lies about us", please, just read some of the results on the first page. It won't take you long. Better still, why not spend the whole morning reading them? After all it's your duty to know what's being done in your name, isn't it? I mean, when crimes are being committed by the IDF with YOUR tax shekels, you have a right to know, surely. One of the search results reveals that an Israel Defence Forces soldier confessed to stealing a credit card from a home in northern Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Remember that? The soldier in the Givati infantry unit's reconnaissance battalion used it to withdraw NIS1600 in Israel; a small criminal act, perhaps, but part of a much bigger crime. A crime against humanity, in fact, that you've been either ignoring or have been deliberately misled about by your leaders, although you don't have to be in the dark about these things; you have access to the internet. Unless, of course, you're comfortable bathing in ignorance.
The most recent looting of civilians' property by the IDF made me think of the Al-Samouni women; I met them last year on the rubble of their homes in Al-Zaytoun (you can see the photos on my Facebook site in the 'Gaza after the holocaust' folder). You may, vaguely, recognize the name Al-Samouni; if not, let me jog your memory. On Saturday, 3 January 2009, the Israeli incursion into Al-Zaytoun neighbourhood began. The following day your forces bombed the same area. On Monday 5 January at 7:00 am, your forces bombed the very same area again. One of the missiles struck the third floor of Tallal Hilmi Al-Samouni's home. It was followed closely by your soldiers shooting to kill. All together, 26 members of the Al-Samouni family were killed that day, including 10 children and 7 women. The Red Cross was only allowed entry three days later to evacuate the dead and injured, the majority of whom were so critically wounded that they were taken to Belgium, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for treatment. Allow me to tell you their names; as fellow human beings, I'm sure you'll wish to pay them your respects, and perhaps pray for them:
• Azza Salah Al-Samouni, 3 years of age
• Waleed Rashad Al-Samouni, 17 years of age
• Ishaq Ibrahim Al-Samouni, 14 years of age
• Ismail Ibrahim Al-Samouni, 16 years of age
• Rifka Wael Al-Samouni, 8 years of age
• Fares Wael Al-Samouni, 12 years of age
• Huda Nael Al-Samouni, 17 years of age
• Ahmad Atieh Al-Samouni, 14 years of age
• Mu'tassim Mohammed Al-Samouni, 6 years of age
• Mohammed Hilmi Al-Samouni, 5 years of age
• Rahma Mohammed Al-Samouni, 50 years of age
• Safa' Hilmi Al-Samouni, 25 years of age
• Maha Mohammed Al-Samouni, 22 years of age
• Rabbab Azzat Al-Samouni, 32 years of age
• Laila Nabih Al-Samouni, 40 years of age
• Rifqa Mohammed Al-Samouni, 50 years of age
• Hannan Khamis Al-Samouni, 36 years of age
• Tallal Hilmi Al-Samouni, 55 years of age
• Attieh Hilmi Al-Samouni, 25 years of age
• Rashad Hilmi Al-Samouni, 42 years of age
• Tawfiq Rashad Al-Samouni, 23 years of age
• Mohammed Ibrahim, 26 years of age
• Ziyad Izzat Al-Samouni, 28 years of age
• Nidal Ahmad Al-Samouni, 30 years of age
• Hamdi Maher Al-Samouni, 23 years of age
• Hamdi Mahmoud Al-Samouni, 70 years of age
Last March I was shown around the rubble of their community by the surviving women and children. I saw the racist graffiti left behind by your "moral army" on the walls of the room where a teenage girl still had to sleep. Written in Hebrew and English, it said "We'll be back" along with a crude cartoon of a house exploding and the words "You are here" added in an attempt to be witty.
A beautiful young woman told me of how she was about to get married before the attack. Her family had saved several thousand dollars for her dowry (many people from one family saving for a very, very long time, as you can imagine). It had been hidden under a bed in a suitcase for the happy event. Her mother had a few ancient pieces of gold jewellery that had been passed down through the generations as well. Your soldiers with their "purity of arms" bombed these people, then shot their children, then looted everything the survivors owned. I swear to you; this happened, you know, this happened. You know this is how your army deliberately treats Palestinians, but before you scream "lies!" or "anti-Semite!", I beg you, parent to parent, human being to human being; in the name of the God of all faiths, take a deep breath, suspend your inclination towards disbelief and read on.
What if, oh Israel, I'm not the anti-Semite your wiki-trained extremist supporters try to paint me out to be? And what if only ten percent of the 64,000 Google search results for "IDF looting" are utterly true? What then? What does that make you complicit in? What will you do if just for a second the truth that the rest of the world sees about your leaders' and soldiers' barbarism fills your mind and your hearts as it one day surely must?
My words as an outsider will no doubt seem harsh, even naive, so will you take it from the Jerusalem Post? "According to information analyzed by the human rights organization Yesh Din, between September 2000 and the end of 2009, less than six percent of nearly 2,000 investigations opened against IDF soldiers suspected of crimes against Palestinians ended in indictments. During the same period, according to various estimates, thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed as a result of IDF activities. How many of these fatalities resulted in convictions? Four. Not four percent – just four."
It's becoming increasingly clear that your young men and women in the military are being trained to be inhuman in their behaviour towards the Palestinians. These occurrences, the looting, the photos posted online by people like Eden Abergil; they can't be explained away as one-offs any longer. It's for you to ask yourselves what they mean. I'm truly sorry if my words have offended you. I just wanted to talk to you directly for once.
In closing, you may like to know that there are an estimated 400 laptops, 600 mobile phones and other personal cash and effects taken from the passengers on the aid flotilla which are still being held by the IDF. You see, when those good people set sail they took valuables with them because they didn't for one moment think that the IDF would steal from them.
Yours in Hope
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.