Tony Greenstein | 27 June 2018 | Post Views:

Why Did the Israeli Army Seize This Blind Palestinian Bereaved Daughter’s Cash?

Yasmin Eshtayyeh. Nidal Eshtayyeh

 It is easy
to get used to Israel’s Kafkaesque inhumanity but every so often you read a
story that is so distressing you wonder how any human being could live with
themselves for treating anyone else this way. 
How do Israelis manage this?  
Because, with some honourable exceptions, they have dehumanised the Palestinians.
Palestinians have become sub-human, a species of animal in the words
of their Deputy Defence Minister Eli Dahan.

The story of
Yasmin Eshtayyeh’s encounters with the Israel authorities and the theft of her
money, energy, agency and dignity is such an example.

The Israeli
army confiscated Yasmin Eshtayyeh’s cash at a border crossing, calling it
‘terrorist money’ – without proof, interrogation or trial. She hasn’t let
adversity stop her from fighting to get it back

By Amira
Hass, Apr 03, 2018
About 5,000
shekels led me to Yasmin Eshtayyeh; more precisely, a combination of $357, 500
shekels and 668 Jordanian dinars. Those are the currencies and the amounts that
the Israeli authorities at the border crossing with Jordan removed, seized and
confiscated from bags of Eshtayyeh and her sister Suhad in 2013. This past
February 14, an anonymous soldier from the ombudsman’s office in the bureau of
the head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command ruled that
Eshtayyeh did not have the right of appeal or objection. End of
immediately, beneath the thin narrative shell of Israelis who confiscate money,
a whole life was revealed of a young woman of 31 who has been blind from birth.
Her memory tells her that she became aware that she was different only at the
age of 5. Her parents, and especially her father, Sael, swaddled and pampered
her protectively. Her mother, Muna, always washed her and then dressed her (to
this day her mother chooses her clothes for her). 
On one
occasion, her little cousin visited her, and they bathed together. Suddenly the
cousin disappeared. Where was she? She’d gone to get dressed. And it was then
that 5-year-old Yasmin grasped that children of her age dress themselves. Then,
or earlier, she also noticed that on the street the other children run, jump,
go to the grocery store by themselves, whereas she — someone was always holding
her hand. The facts piled up. The concept of sight wasn’t yet completely clear
to her, but her difference from others was. 
awareness of the existence of a supreme entity that rules all preceded her
awareness of blindness and the sense of sight. At least that’s what her memory
tells her. At the age of 4 or thereabouts — meaning in 1991 — the family was
sitting in the yard of their house in the village of Salem, east of Nablus.
“Suddenly someone shouted, ‘Come here, if not, I’ll shoot you,’” she says. The
come here” was in Hebrew, the rest in Arabic. She already knew what shooting
was. Apparently she had also heard the word “army.” The thumps on the asphalt
that she heard, she knew, were stones being thrown by children. The words
didn’t yet jell into a complete concept. It was her first conscious encounter
with the voice of a soldier, representative of earthly rule. 
“I thought a
soldier was a gigantic being,
” she recalls. “Bigger than regular people. I
didn’t understand how he could behave like that, against human beings
.” As with
many others, “Jew” and “soldier” became synonyms in her lexicon. It would be
the greatest tragedy of her life, when she was 17, that would enable her to
distinguish between the two. 
Yasmin Eshtayyeh as a child, with her father. Reproduction
‘Request denied’
She won’t
forget the soldier named Uri. “One of the worst I’ve seen in my life,” she
says. Using that word: “seen.” In December 2013, she took part with other
Palestinian women in a gathering in Amman about advancing the rights of
disabled women in the Middle East. The girl who had only discovered at age 5
that girls dress themselves was now the holder of a master’s degree in English
and translation, and an articulate representative of disabled women who seek to
integrate into society and the workforce. 
worked for the Palestinian organization Stars of Hope, which was founded to
promote the integration of women with disabilities, and she represented the
organization at the United Nations-sponsored conference that December. Her
sister joined her as an escort. When they returned, on December 22, all the
other women went through the al-Karameh (“dignity” in Arabic) border crossing
(also known as the Allenby crossing) without incident, but to their
astonishment, she and her sister were detained. 
They were
stopped at passport control, were required to remove their head coverings and
coats and take off their shoes. They were body-searched, and the money that was
found in their handbags was taken. Eshtayyeh tells about the narrow room to
which they were taken, the drinking water that wasn’t offered to them and the
bathroom they were not permitted to go to, and about the soldier Uri, who
wouldn’t let them move, and shouted at them. There was also an Israeli
policeman who introduced himself as Ahmed. “He told me: ‘We are concerned that
someone from Hamas will use you.’ I replied that I had studied at university,
traveled abroad and worked, and that I had never allowed anyone to exploit
They were
asked about the source of the money. The answer was easy: 500 shekels
(currently $142) and another 98 dinars ($138) were from her salary at Birzeit
University, where she was employed as an adviser at the Center for Development
Studies. She was very proud of her ability to support herself and also help the
family out. She had received the dollars from Stars of Hope to cover expenses
during the trip, and she was expected to give back whatever was left over. The
money that was taken from her sister was from some girls and women in the
family who wanted her to buy cosmetics for them in the Jordanian capital. But
the conference days were longer and more intense than they’d expected, they had
little time to look for bargains and, above all, they discovered that Amman
wasn’t less expensive. 
Despite the
explanations, before they left they were handed a notification from the Israel
Police stating that their money had been seized “due to suspicion of the
transfer of funds connected to an illegal association, and the commander of the
IDF forces in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] intends to confiscate the money
that was seized.”
At about 1:30 A.M., on that December day four years ago,
after a delay of eight hours, they were permitted to leave the empty terminal.
They begged to be left with a little money so they could take a taxi home. The
people who’d taken their money refused. They waited another few hours for an
uncle to drive in the middle of the night from the Nablus area and pick them
That was the
start of a bureaucratic and legal saga that continues to this day, which has
woven into Yasmin Eshtayyeh’s life not only soldiers and police officers but
also Supreme Court justices Elyakim Rubinstein (now retired), Noam Sohlberg and
Menachem Mazuz. 
Two Israeli
friends wrote letters to the military legal adviser in Judea and Samaria,
requesting that the money be returned. They received a response from the legal
adviser on April 8, 2014. It stated that just a day earlier, i.e., April 7, an
order to confiscate the money was issued, this “in the light of reliable and
cross-matching intelligence information that was presented.”
Without proof,
without evidence, without explanations and details, without hearing what the
women had to say. They were not arrested, were not summoned for an
interrogation about an offense they had supposedly committed, were not tried. 
December 25, 2013, Palestinians whose property was confiscated by order of the
military commander could at least appeal to a military court. But on that day,
Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, at the time the head of Central Command and the
sovereign in the West Bank, signed an order depriving military courts of that
authority and thus exempting the confiscators of the need to provide any
semblance of proof and transparency. 
In a society
in which large families are dependent on one salary, and where the minimum monthly
wage is 1,400 shekels ($405), and many women earn even less than that, 5,000
shekels is a great deal of money. The sisters turned for assistance to Yesh
Din: Volunteers for Human Rights, an organization that operates in Israel and
the West Bank. Yesh Din attorneys Michael Sfard, Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man and
Noa Amrami petitioned the High Court of Justice in their name. The petition
argued that the confiscation order was illegal as was the denial of the right
of appeal. The High Court united the petition with two similar cases. The
justices did not even address the cases of confiscation in the petitions, and
ruled that there was no legal impediment in the order by the head of Central
Command denying the right of appeal. At the same time, they suggested that the
army make possible “a forum of objection or appeal on the confiscation
to reduce the number of petitions to the High Court. They thought
that the specific cases that were now before them would be resolved within the
framework of such a “forum.” 
Yasmin Eshtayyeh. Nidal Eshtayyeh
The army
accepted the proposal, with one substantial difference: A committee was duly
established consisting of representatives from the office of the military
advocate general, the Intelligence Corps and the Civil Administration — but its
authority was limited to discussing “seizure of objects,” a stage preceding
confiscation. Anyone whose property had already been declared confiscated could
kiss it goodbye. Last May, the justices expressed their satisfaction, declared
that the petition had “achieved a goal of importance” and ordered the state to
pay the representatives of the three petitioners court costs of 10,000 shekels
For Yasmin
and Suhad Eshtayyeh this was a Kafkaesque outcome. Thanks to their petition,
among others, the justices had suggested that the order be amended, and a
military committee was set up to hear objections, but they themselves were
unable to appear before the committee because their money had already been
declared “confiscated.” Sfard and another Yesh Din attorney, Sophia Brodsky,
asked a representative of the state prosecution, attorney Roy Shweika, to find
a way out. He refused. They asked for a clarification from the court, which had
mistakenly thought that its judgment had also intimated a solution for the
appellants. Last November, Justice Sohlberg ruled that, as far as he was
concerned, the sisters could submit a new petition. In other words, another
court fee to pay, more running around. More time and mental and material
resources wasted. 
The lawyers
then wrote to the current head of Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, and to
the legal adviser, Lt. Gen. Eyal Toledano, in the hope that possibly they would
agree to show flexibility, revoke the confiscation order and allow the sisters
to submit their objection to the committee that had been established in the
wake of their petition. But the anonymous soldier from the ombudsman’s office
in the legal adviser’s bureau, who replied last month, clung to the circular
explanation: The information that led to the confiscation (without the right of
appeal) was solid and reliable, the committee discusses only pre-confiscation
appeals of seizures. “Your client’s case is not consistent with the committee’s
” Request denied. 
Spokesperson’s Unit, responding to a request for comment, told Haaretz, “In
2014, money was confiscated from the Palestinians mentioned in the article
which, according to reliable intelligence information, is terrorist money
originating in the Hamas organization.”
By the way, Hamas was never mentioned
in the official notifications the two received. 
To see the sea
We know
that change is possible,”
states the “Guide for (Public) Pressure and Advocacy
for the Subject of Disabilities: Concepts and their Application,”
published by
Birzeit University’s Center for Development Studies. Yasmin Eshtayyeh is one of
the guide’s authors. The center combines the development of theoretical
thinking with public and social activity. She worked there as an adviser in a
project that lasted about a year and a half on society’s attitude toward people
with disabilities. The guide mentions, as proof of the possibility to change,
the activities of Palestinian associations of disabled people and a 1999
Palestinian law that clarifies their rights. In April 2015, she appeared at a
public event where she spoke about the belief in the change that people can
foment. The occasion was the annual Memorial Day ceremony held by the
Israeli-Palestinian organization Combatants for Peace, to which she had been
invited as a bereaved daughter: a settler from Itamar, Yehoshua Elitzur,
murdered her father, Sael, on September 27, 2004. 
The Eshtayyeh family. Reproduction
In her
speech she stated, “The anger and the hatred that accompanied me would probably
have continued to haunt me if I had not met other Jews.”
A few days after her
father was murdered, activists from the Villages Group in Israel came to the
village to express their condolences and anger. Eshtayyeh told the audience at
the ceremony that at first she had refused to shake the hands of one of the
activists, “because she was a Jew.” Gradually she relented and got to know
other members in the group of activists. They and other Israeli Jews led her to
believe in change that people can foment. One of the activists gave music lessons
in the village. Eshtayyeh was invited as an interpreter. She fell in love with
the harp, which allowed her “to see the sea, which I have never visited,” and
she began to learn to play the instrument. 
the ceremony she joined the Parents Circle–Families Forum (the forum of
bereaved families), and has been an active member since then. 
Her father
was employed for 18 years by a Rishon Letzion-based company that distributes
cooking-gas tanks. His work there was terminated during the second intifada. At
the age of 46, he started to work as the driver of a group cab. In the days of
the roadblocks and roads closed to Palestinians, that meant traveling on dirt
trails and bypassing the long lines at the checkpoints, to get people to work,
school, the market and medical clinics. 
At the
memorial ceremony she said, “My father was the sole provider. And the worst
nightmare in life happened to us. On September 27, 2004, my father went to work
as he did every day, and when he turned onto a bypass road built by settlers,
so they could travel without rubbing up against Palestinians, a settler
attacked him and shot him in the heart. The murderer is a German who converted
to Judaism and lives in a settler outpost next to Itamar.” 
Yehoshua Elitzur, the settler who killed Sael Eshtayyeh, in court in 2004.  Moti Kimche
The killer,
who was convicted of manslaughter, was for some reason placed under house
arrest after the murder and again after the conviction. Before sentence was
pronounced, he disappeared. Haaretz correspondent Shay Fogelman looked for him,
in a labyrinthine journey combining detective work with history to which he
devoted five years of his life and which also jelled into a film that will be
screened in a few months. In the meantime, Yehoshua Elitzur was tracked down in
Brazil, from which he was extradited to Israel in mid-January of this year. He
is now in prison, awaiting his sentence. 
The hunt for
Elitzur drew Fogelman close to the Eshtayyeh family. Yasmin mentions him with
special fondness. He was a witness to the absurd situation in which many
Palestinian families whose loved ones are killed by Israeli soldiers or
civilians find themselves: the Shin Bet security service and the army mark them
as “dangerous.” And the fact is, almost every year, soldiers are dispatched to
break into Yasmin’s family’s house in the middle of the night and conduct
searches. “Fine, let them search, but they always leave behind broken things
and a big mess,”
she says. 
Two years
ago, Eshtayyeh and her younger brother, Mohammed, who is also blind from birth,
went to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer for a special eye examination. The
two of them may be eligible for the implantation of a device that would let
them see. Their mother, who’s 57, accompanied them. At the checkpoint she was
told: “Denied.” The two waited for friends from the bereaved-families forum to
come and escort them. Since stepping up her activity in the forum, Yasmin, too,
has been added to the list of Palestinians denied entry to Israel, after many
years during which she received permits. 
Despite her
academic degrees and success in time-limited projects, Eshtayyeh is unable to
find a permanent job — her biggest wish. Implementation lags behind Palestinian
law for integrating disabled people into society, she says, and people with
disabilities still feel discrimination. Those with sight or who don’t need to
use a wheelchair also often need connections to find a job. Discrimination
against women with disabilities is even more acute, and the social misgivings about
them are sharper yet — a blind woman has little prospect of raising a
Still, tell
me about happy days in your life, I asked her a few weeks ago when we were
sitting on the porch of their home. A big smile lit up her face: “The two
happiest days of my life were the parties that mom organized for me in honor of
my first degree, in English language and literature, and afterward in honor of
my second degree, in translation,”
she said. Everything and everyone was there.
Debka folk dancing, fireworks, festive attire, a special hairdo under the
kerchief and dozens of people from the family and the village who came to share
in her joy and pride

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