Middle East & Africa
Israeli Troops Terrorize Palestinian Banks
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Middle East Correspondent
Gaza City, Feb. 26, 2004 — In an unusual turn of events in the Palestinian territories, the Israeli forces raided three bank branches in a West Bank city and robbed at least $8 million in cash from them, Palestinian sources reported. Palestinian security sources said that a large number of Israeli soldiers, accompanied by Israeli policemen and bank experts, raided on Wednesday morning the banks quarter in downtown Ramallah City. Israeli military jeeps, armored personnel carriers and armored trucks blockaded the quarter entirely, banning traffic in and out of it. The heavily-armed Israeli troops stormed a branch of the Cairo-Amman Bank and two branches of the Arab Bank. They held employees and clients hostages, shut down the camera surveillance systems inside and forced senior employees to open the vaults for them, walking out with an estimate sum of 6.7 to 8.9 million U.S. dollars in cash. Mo'ayyad Hazboun, a senior teller in the Cairo-Amman Bank, Ramallah branch, told ST correspondent on the phone that the Israeli soldiers acted like a gang robbing a bank, by ordering him to open the main vault and give them the password for the main computer that holds the clients' financial records.
|Israeli soldiers respond with brutal force to Palestinian protestors over the bank raids. Courtesy AFP|
"It was like a Hollywood movie, where the armed robbers come inside, herd everybody together in one corner of the bank, while a group of them take the senior employees hostages and force them to open the vaults and empty cash in their sacks. It was horrible, and the soldiers were very vulgar with us. They shut down the alarm and video camera systems before they robbed the money," said Hazboun. The soldiers allowed clients to leave only after their ID cards were checked, eyewitnesses said. The Israeli bank experts went through hundreds of Palestinian bank accounts on the main computers, checking the file cabinets for things that were not present on the computers, several bank employees mentioned. Palestinian residents of Ramallah responded to the Israeli bank robberies with rage, hurling stones and empty bottles at the Israeli troops, who responded fiercely with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters. Palestinian medical sources reported at least 40 injuries among the Palestinian citizens, including three in critical condition. Israeli military sources said that the raid on the banks and looting of money was in an effort to uncover bank accounts used to fund "terrorist activities," claiming that recent money transfers from the Lebanese Hezbollah organization have been made to Palestinian bank accounts, in order to fund the Palestinian militant factions.
|An Israeli soldier guards the Arab Bank branch in Ramallah while others search and loot it. Courtesy AP|
An Israeli official later said the money looted would be spent on unspecified humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Several media sources reported that the Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he was going to spend the looted money on developing the many military checkpoints around the West Bank. On the official level, the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei' told reporters that what Israel did in Ramallah was an act of the mafia. "It's like the mafia ... I think it should be dealt with in a very serious way." The Palestinian governor of the Palestinian Monetary Authority, Mr. Amin Haddad, warned that the Israeli raid on the Palestinian banks violates the signed agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and could trigger further raids on the Palestinian monetary institutions throughout the occupied territories. Palestinian newspapers today reacted with rage to the Israeli raid on the banks. "The Occupation's Armed Robbery," read the huge red headline in the Al Hayat Al Jadida local newspaper, which is closely related to the Palestinian Authority. The United States also criticized the Israeli raid, as the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters today in the daily press briefing that Israel should have coordinated this move with the Palestinian Authority. "Some of these actions risk destabilizing the Palestinian banking system, so we would prefer to see Israeli coordination with the Palestinian financial authorities in order to stem the flow of funds to terrorist groups," he said.
|Ramallah Curtesy Fox News|
Despite arguing that the money they looted from the Palestinian banks was used to fund terrorist groups, former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin doubted today if the Israeli government was able to prove that these funds were actually used for that purpose. However, Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the ruling Likud party, said that did not matter. "We are in a war against the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. It is not about proof," he said. The Wednesday bank raids are considered yet the largest Israeli raid on Palestinian monetary institutions since the eruption of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September, 2000. The Israeli forces launched several small raids on Palestinian charity organizations and small bank branches over the past 41 months of violence, accusing these establishments of funding terrorist activities and funneling money coming mainly from Iran, Syria, and the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon through their accounts.
|Israeli Armored Vehicle in Ramallah|
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Yasser AbuMoailek, a journalist and feature writer working for the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. He contributes to many circulations inlcuding the Seoul Times, as well as monitoring the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.