As the Israeli Army withdraws from Moslem West Beirut, residents here are charging that some of its soldiers looted and vandalized their homes and businesses during the occupation.
"You know, everyone in our neighborhood used to complain about the Syrians," said Dr. Amal Shama, the U.S.-educated director of Berbir Hospital, recalling the dispatch of a Syrian Army peace-keeping force to Beirut to end Lebanon's civil war in 1976. "But in six years the Syrians never did what the Israelis did here in three days."
After Israeli Army soldiers came to her apartment on the top floor of her hospital building, Shama said she found her furniture smashed, her valuables -- jewelry, radio, cameras -- stolen, rugs burned with cigarettes, the ceiling spattered with food, and feces deliberately deposited around the room, including on her dining room table.
Israeli soldiers, once led by a lieutenant colonel, returned to her apartment twice, Shama said, and each time she found more damage. She said they also broke into a neighboring building of private physicians' clinics in the hospital compound, broke every door, stole the physicians' clocks, cigarette lighters and even surgical tools, and again left every office littered with their stool, on floors as well as furniture and desks.
Such acts do not seem to have been isolated incidents. Dr. Fakhri Alami, a urological surgeon who has offices in the same neighborhood, reported that Israeli soldiers occupied his clinic. When Alami returned, he found the laboratories ransacked and an office safe blown up with 13,000 Lebanese pounds (about $2,800) missing. Shopkeepers in the neighborhood complained of radios, television sets and other electrical appliances being taken from their shops during the night by Israeli troops who patrolled the area.Dozens of people interviewed told of Israeli soldiers breaking into their homes, stealing valuables and, in one case, even smashing their children's toys.
A West Beirut police lieutenant told the Associated Press that he had heard "many more" than 50 complaints from citizens about looting and car thefts by Israeli troops. But the lieutenant said that many Palestinians, Syrian troops and Lebanese had been involved in similar incidents since the Lebanon war began in June.
In Tel Aviv, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said that Robert Pugh, deputy to the U.S. ambassador in Beirut, had investigated the rumors of looting and found them untrue. Washington Post correspondents were unable to reach Pugh today, but informed sources in Washington said Pugh had made no such investigation, nor reported any finding.
Rules issued to Israeli soldiers in Lebanon warn strongly against looting, with punishments of up to 10 years in prison, The Associated Press reported. In two well publicized cases, the AP noted, a sergeant was jailed for two months for stealing $125 from a deserted home and another sergeant drew the same term for stealing a vacuum cleaner, a telephone and an easy chair.
One of the earliest reported cases of looting took place at the Beirut International Airport several weeks ago. Salim Salam, the managing director of Middle East Airlines, said he returned to the main terminal building after the Israeli Army had pulled back and found that his whole computer reservations system had been lifted. Salam told the AP that refrigerators, radios, pocket calculators, mechanics' tools, six minibuses and four Land Rovers were missing. On his bare desk, he says, he found only feces.
Last week, daily convoys of huge, gray Mack trucks with Israeli license plates were seen driving south to Israel loaded to the brim. The trucks are for the most part full of captured ammunition and occasional heavy weapons. But on three occasions this correspondent saw southbound Israeli military trucks carrying one or two civilian cars. One convoy also contained furniture, air conditioners and even one refrigerator.
An IDF spokesman in Tel Aviv told Washington Post correspondent Edward Walsh that cars and other consumer goods seen heading south for Israel were taken from Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Beirut. The spokesman said this was "equipment of the PLO," to be kept by the Army and not destined for private use.
Managers in many office buildings and banks around the city have complained that Israeli soldiers, who had come to search the premises, took out office equipment and loaded it on trucks. On Sunday, for instance, the Syrian Bank of Lebanon charged that its telex machines and photocopiers had been taken by the Israelis.
Eyewitnesses have accused the Israelis of stealing cars, stripping schools of books and desks, and removing aluminum casement window frames from occupied buildings. In at least one instance that this correspondent could corroborate, Israeli soldiers defecated in a downtown West Beirut mosque.
Diplomats charged also that Israeli Army units broke into the safes of both the Iranian and Algerian embassies to remove documents.
The IDF spokesman in Tel Aviv told correspondent Walsh that Israeli soldiers entered the Iranian and Algerian embassies only after shots were fired at them from those locations, and once inside found files already torn apart. The Israelis did not take anything, the army spokesman said.
Israeli officers and soldiers questioned around Beirut about such acts either shrugged them off on the grounds that "this is a war" or claimed that property was only being removed from "terrorists' " offices or homes.
Usama Khalidi, professor of biochemistry at the American University Hospital of Beirut, was one victim of the alleged looting. His apartment is in the same building as the Palestine Research Center, a PLO think tank where the Israeli Army spent four days confiscating files, documents and library books. The Khalidis' apartment also was taken over by the Israelis, who broke down the door twice, though they had been offered a key.
"They took my Islamic art books, they took a shotgun, of course, they took my collection of antique Syrian pots, electric tools and even pipe joints that were part of plumbing repairs going on in the house," Khalidi said.
"They took my lecture notes, bedclothes, damascene tablecloths and trampled them on the floor," the professor said, fighting to contain his anger. "They then defecated on top of it all and crowned it with broken eggs."
Shama, at Berbir Hospital, recalled that along with vandalizing her apartment, the soldiers had also torn up a lot of her private papers. She said they also left her a note on a couch after they had departed. It read: "Sharon loves you."