Police, Shin Bet officers, Border Police and army troops yesterday confiscated millions of shekels from three Arab banks in Ramallah, on the grounds the money came from accounts that were funneling funds from overseas into the hands of terrorist groups. The forces focused on two branches of the Arab Bank and on the main branch of the Cairo-Amman Bank in the city.
According to the chairman of the Cairo-Amman Bank, Abdel Malik al-Jabbar, “the army presented an order signed by the general of the Central Command, Moshe Kaplinski, and the soldiers showed bank officials a list of 56 accounts to be confiscated. Then they took NIS 2.8 million from the bank safe, the same amount that was in those 56 accounts. This is a disaster for us. We now expect a run on the bank by customers afraid for their money.”
Many millions more were taken from two branches of the Arab Bank, the largest bank operating in the territories, with branches in 40 countries around the world. While Palestinian sources said that more than NIS 10 million was taken from upward of 150 accounts of charities, non-governmental organizations and privately held accounts of residents of the territories, defense sources said they confiscated more than NIS 35 million from accounts they suspect were used to finance terrorism.
Israel has promised the money will be used instead on projects “that benefit Palestinian welfare.” Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz last night ordered the government coordinator in the territories to draw up plans to use the confiscated money for “humanitarian” purposes in the territories. Mofaz is issuing orders for improvements in the Palestinian health services, busing for school children and improving infrastructure at checkpoints and other crossing points. “The money should be used to improve conditions for the residents of the territories, not to kill Israelis,” he said.
The orders to the troops raiding the banks were not to fire inside the buildings and not to destroy anything. There were only clashes outside, with soldiers using tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to rebuff rock- and firebomb-throwing teenagers. Seventeen people were wounded, mostly lightly, but three were seriously wounded by the shooting.
The banks have asked several Israeli lawyers to represent them in suits to recover the money and to prevent similar actions in the future. The army said the account holders will be able to appeal the confiscation of their accounts.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia termed the raids “Mafia-like,” saying nothing like it had ever taken place anywhere in the civilized world.
Inside the bank branches, Shin Bet officers connected to computer systems, analyzing suspected accounts, and confiscating documents and the cash equivalent of the balances of the accounts suspected of serving as conduits to terrorist groups.
According to defense sources, the money came from Syria and Lebanon as well as other Arab countries and Iran, with much of the funds going to Hamas-affiliated organizations, as well as directly to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah terror cells. One account was owned by Naif Abu Sariah, a leader of the Fatah-affiliated Tanzim’s military wing in Nablus.
The operation was considered particularly sensitive because it involved a wide-scale entry to the city in daylight. Two of the bank branches raided are in shopping malls, next to the offices of a British diplomatic legation and Abu Dhabi TV’s bureau in the city.