Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Ex-Car Thief Aims To Revive Business In Gaza

Ex-Car Thief Aims To Revive Business In Gaza

Letter from Gaza By Yasser Abu Moailek

Abdel Rahman sat on a sand dune near the northern borders of the Gaza Strip, looking around the vast expanses of land that was once the Jewish settlement Eli Sinai. He moved his sight northwards over to the distant Israeli city of Ashkelon, and released a sigh.

"This area was my main base of operations. We were very rich, but the fighting brought our business to its knees," he said.

Abdel Rahman once headed a large car theft ring in Gaza. He said he was not afraid of Palestinian and Israeli law enforcements. He said his "business" brought benefits to both sides and supported many families along the way.

Stealing Israeli cars and smuggling them to Gaza emerged notably after the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 and the inception of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994. The accords created what car thieves describe as a safe haven for them to retreat with their bounty.

"We started in early 1994," he said, "when Palestinians flooded freely into Israel with the prospects of peace. We brought back a steady stream of late-model vehicles, for personal use, for resale, for chop shops, and - for the luxury cars at least - shiny limos for [Palestinian] VIPs."

Stealing cars was noticeably different from other countries.

"We had Jewish and Arab accomplices inside Israel who compiled a list of cars for us to steal. It was a win-win situation; car owners reported their cars as stolen and get a new one from the Israeli insurance company, and we get our cars."

His ring included Israeli army officers. They would, for a commission, facilitate the flow of stolen cars from Israel into either the permeable borderline with the West Bank or through the Erez Checkpoint, which is the only entry point into the Gaza Strip from Israel.

However, even with the presence of military accomplices, smuggling cars into Gaza was not easy.

"We would have to bury the cars in a truck, under a load of sand or building materials, and then depend on our accomplices to pass these trucks with little or no searching," he said.

Some Gazans do not regard this activity as wrong. University student Latif Abdel Hadi said that auto theft was profitable for both the thieves and the victims, and that Palestinians did not care, because thieves did not touch their own cars - they were stealing from Israelis.

"Through our Israeli contacts, who were also dealing with car thieves inside, we were able to give them whatever details a client would ask for in his car-to-be. They would deliver it inside PA-held areas within two to three days," Abdel Rahman explained.

He also noted that he did some jobs for renowned Palestinian security officials - whom he refused to name - who have requested exotic cars or special high-end jeeps.

Car thieves fenced some 15,000 stolen vehicles into the Gaza Strip. Thousands are driven by Palestinian security and other officials. A lot of them are working as taxicabs, which provide income while costing a lot less in registration and licensing fees than a legal yellow cab.

For these reasons, the PA found itself providing the legal cover for these cars - though clearly labeling them as stolen in the license plates.

Saad Humeid, a driver of stolen taxi, said he bought his 1998 Mercedes from a car thief who brought it from Israel in 1999. He went to the vehicle registration office in Gaza and licensed it as stolen - indicated by a license plate with the black initials M and F in Arabic; stolen and Palestinian respectively.

Cars put to work for PA officials and security services were given the same license plates but with red initials and an additional H - indicating government.

But the lucrative auto theft didn't last for long - the number of stolen cars rapidly decreased when the Intifada broke out in September 2000.

"The Intifada brought with it many changes. Borders were closed shut and mutual relations became tense, and we were unable to smuggle anything through the borders because tanks and military patrols were everywhere in fear of infiltrators and weapon smugglers," Abdel Rahman said.

"Anyone seen near the borders was shot at without warning. It became a no-man zone and we were suddenly out of work."

Facing the Israeli military and lawsuits by angered insurance companies, the PA had to settle with the companies and work to end the stolen car industry, offsetting the large and undisclosed sum of the settlement by increasing registration fees for stolen cars.

This signaled the end of Abdel Rahman's business, and a probable shift to other forms of business until the industry return back to its feet.

Back on that sand dune in northern Gaza Strip, Abdel Rahman said he was optimistic following the Gaza pullout, even though borders were still closed and Israeli army was well established around Gaza and throughout the West Bank.

"This move by Israel might represent a good opportunity for us to return to our former business, unless the [Palestinian] Authority decides to enforce the law and ban stolen cars from being used in the Palestinian territories," he said.

But it seems a long way yet to keep the stolen cars off the road, according to an employee at Gaza's transportation department. He said that since this may put a lot of self-employed taxi drivers out of work, no one is saying how long it will take to abolish the license plate that says, `This car was stolen.'

When asked about his current line of business, Abdel Rahman replied with a grin, "It is something not related to cars."


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news