Despite appeals from 750 passengers on the Gaza flotilla to their governments to pressure the Israeli government to protect and return their personal belongings that were taken by Israeli commandos on May 31, 2010, when they forcefully boarded the six ships of the flotilla, the Israeli government has left millions of dollars of computers, cameras and cell phones and hundreds of thousands of cash unsecured and un-inventoried.
An Israeli newspaper has revealed that four to six computers among the hundreds that were taken from passengers on the six ships have been sold by an Israeli First Lieutenant to three junior military personnel. On August 18, a second officer was arrested in connection with the theft. An Israeli military official described the case as "embarrassing and shameful." Eitan Kabel, a member of parliament from the Labour party, told Israeli media: "This is an embarrassing, humiliating and infuriating act."
Israeli government informed of passengers' property by Embassies
Passengers from the six ships gave detailed lists of their property to consular officers from their respective Embassies while the passengers were in the Beer-Shiva prison on June 2. All passengers who were flown from Israel on June 4 to Turkey also gave another list of their possessions to consular officials in Istanbul, Turkey. Most passengers followed up with letters to their respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs or Department of State and to lawyers who will be filing lawsuits for deaths and injuries inflicted by the Israeli military and claims for stolen property.
Evidence of commandos' actions on cameras, cell phones and computers should be available for independent investigation and possible criminal cases
Evidence on the flotilla passengers' cameras, cell phones and computers should be a part of the evaluation by an independent panel to determine when and where 9 passengers on the Mavi Marmara were killed and when and where 50 other passengers were wounded. With the exception of two camera cards that survived endless body inspections on the ships, in the initial processing center at Ashdod port and in the prison, all the photos and video footage taken by 750 passengers is in the possession of the Israeli government.
Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars of Cash Taken by Commandos
Israeli commandos also took cash and credit cards from passengers. A conservative estimate of $1000 cash per passenger gives a total of $750,000 cash that was taken from passengers. Commandos with weapons demanded cash from passengers stating they were "to take the money for safekeeping." Many passengers had been fundraising in their home areas to have funds to deliver to non-governmental organizations. Other passengers were taking money to families in Gaza from family members living outside of Gaza. I personally know of four persons on the passenger ships who had a total $68,000 in cash taken by commandos.
Israeli military can find out who took the equipment and money--if they want to
The Israeli military is certainly capable of finding out who took the money and equipment if they wish. The Israeli military knows exactly which military unit boarded each of the six ships, the names of each of the commandos that were on each ship and the leaders of each unit. Passengers do not know the names of the commandos as their uniforms were stripped of nametags, rank and unit insignia and they kept black masks on throughout the hours they were on the ships.
The Israeli military can order the leaders of each unit to testify if they know if any member of their unit took money or equipment and whether they have noticed if any unit member has suddenly had a change in his lifestyle that might be attributed to having stolen money or sold equipment from the passengers.
As a retired U.S. Army Colonel with 29 years in the military, I know that the barracks gossip in the military unit involved will provide some information about the stolen property and money. Checking the pawnshops near the military bases is a good bet as they are likely places that stolen goods will appear. New cars, cell phones, electronic equipment that is above the "pay-grade" of a military members is a dead give-away that the person has somehow come into new money and is living beyond his means.
U.S. military court-martials in 1984 for theft by U.S. military during Grenada invasion
I speak from experience about military personnel taking the possessions of others. In 1984, 13 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, North Carolina were court-martialed and found guilty of stealing property of civilians in Grenada when the U.S. military invaded and occupied that country. I was on the U.S. military claims commission and received the complaints from Grenadians that after U.S. military personnel had occupied their houses, jewelry, money and various items were missing.
We immediately asked the criminal investigative office at Fort Bragg to go to the pawn shops around Fort Bragg to look for the items, and they found most of the them at the shops. The soldiers considered that the property of the Grenadians were "spoils of war." One young private even wrote an article for the Fayetteville, North Carolina newspaper in which he proudly described in detail what he had taken as "spoils of war." He was court-martialed and sentenced to several months in prison.
In the same manner, I suspect that the commandos decided that since their government was labeling everyone on the flotilla as "terrorists," that no one in the government would care if they took "spoils of war," the possessions of the "terrorists."
Leadership and Accountablility in the Israeli military?
I have no doubts that members of the commando units know exactly who took what and where the money and equipment is. It takes good military leadership to understand the breakdown in unit integrity and want to correct it.
We will see by the actions of the Israeli military and government what type of leadership and accountability they have.
Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel with 29 years of service and 16 years as a US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war. She was in Gaza three times in 2009, helped organize the 1350 person Gaza Freedom March in December, 2009 and was on the Gaza flotilla.