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Gideon Spiro on looting of Palestinian property
To the editors of the Haaretz supplement
From Gideon Spiro
5 October 2020
Reading Ofer Aderet’s article, “They saw pianos and armchairs and loaded them
onto the trucks. Everybody knew – and kept quiet” (Haaretz supplement 2
October 2020) sent me back 72 years and to the realization that as a 13 year
old boy I had unknowingly taken part in a war crime. At the time I was living
with my family in Jerusalem in the Kiryat Shmuel neighbourhood of Rehavia, a
front-line Jewish neighbourhood on the boundary with the Arab neighbourhood of
Katamon. As a child I remember the siege of Jerusalem, the sound of the shots
fired from Katamon, the line for water rations, the arguments about who was
first in line, the austerity and the quiet after the storm when battles ended.
We lived where Ha-Ari, Ha-Aderet, Ha-Palmach and Itamar Ben Avi streets came
together. (Street names have changed since 1948)
Then the quiet was interrupted again, and the noise of shooting was replaced
by the noise of trucks carrying loads the contents of which I did not know,
but based on the direction they were going I figured they were going from Arab
Katamon towards Jewish Jerusalem. I was then a street boy, not in the sense of
a child abandoned by his family, but a child who was alone and quite bored,
who had received instructions from his parents on the limits of the area where
he was allowed to wander.
As well as being a curious child I was also adventurous, and I decided to go
to Katamon to see what the trucks were doing. I knew it would not end well.
German-Jewish parents do not like undisciplined children, but my curiosity
overcame their restrictions. The scene before my eyes was a shocking one. Some
of the most beautiful houses I had ever seen were broken into and everyone
could go in and take whatever they wanted. I entered several homes and the
scene was the same: tables set for meals, cutlery beside every plate. Clearly
the residents had fled in the middle of the meal.
I took a fork as a souvenir and went home, and my father asked me where I had
been. I told him the truth. What’s that in your pocket? – he asked. It’s a
souvenir fork, I told him. Is it your fork? No, I replied. So go and take it
back. Which I did.
I didn’t forget that lesson in the June 1967 war. I was a member of a company
that temporarily seized a hotel from its owners. Occupiers too need pillows to
lay their heads on.
I went to the hotel’s reception office and took a ball-point pen and an air-
mail envelope with the hotel’s name on it as souvenirs. I left the hotel for a
walk around the city and was afflicted with a feeling of unease. My father,
the doctor, had died and there was no one to ask me: is that yours? So I asked
myself, and the answer was clear!! I went back to the hotel and returned the
pen and the envelopes to their places.
The looting of Palestinian property by Jewish soldiers in the 1948 war was
well-known, and Adam Raz has provided no new information on the phenomenon
itself. Netiva Ben-Yehuda, a Palmach member who participated in the battle for
Tiberias described what she saw in strong terms. “Those scenes were familiar
to us. Such terrible things they did to us in the Holocaust, during the World
War, and all the pogroms. Oh, how well we knew those scenes. And here – here
we were doing those terrible things to others. … We loaded everything onto the
truck, our hands trembling terribly. Even now my hands are trembling just from
writing about it.” 
David Senator, one of the leaders of Brit Shalom and administrator of the
Hebrew University, described what he saw: “Everywhere you look these days on
the streets of Rehavia you see youths, children and old people returning from
Katamon or other neighbourhoods with bags full of stolen objects, and the loot
is of all kinds – refrigerators, beds, clocks and clothes.”
`On the whole street there is not a single house, store or workshop that has
not had everything stripped from it, valuable objects and worthess ones –
everything`: Ruth Lovitz on the looting of Jaffa.
I read these things and explode with rage. I am a refugee from Germany that
whose apartment was looted in the Krystallnacht pogroms of November 1938.
The descriptions of looting in Adam Raz’s study are virtually identical to a
description of the looting of valuable Jewish property in Germany in 1938.
That included pianos, valuable paintings, jewelry, clocks, expensive furniture
and clothes. My mother and her two children had to move to a different safe-
house nearly every day. And the politics were similar too. The purpose of the
Krystallnacht pogroms was to empty Germany of Jews. The purpose of the looting
of the 1948 war, as Adam Raz points out, was to empty this country of Arabs.
The leaders of the Jewish Yishuv in 1948 did not stop the looting because they
saw the looters as allies who were helping them to empty Israel of Arabs. The
German police and the Jewish police stood aside and did not intervene.
1. Translated from the text of Ofer Aderet’s 1 October 2020 article in the
online edition of Haaretz: “Hem ra’u psanterim ve-khursa’ot ve-he’emisu ‘al
ha-masa’iot. Kulam yad’u – ve-shatqu.” (Hebrew) (“They saw pianos and
armchairs and loaded them onto the trucks. Everybody knew – and kept quiet.”)
Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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