A soldier sleeps at a base camp near the border with the Gaza Strip, surrounded by packages donated by citizens..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When New Yorker Yitz Newman arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday night, he never expected that the several thousand dollars’ worth of products he had collected for IDF soldiers would be confiscated.
Bringing donated supplies to the soldiers and to children in the South was his sole purpose in coming to Israel on a short visit, and he would depart for the US on Thursday, Newman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. Newman and his brother Yehudah brought $15,000 with them in order to buy the bulk of the gifts in Israel, but he had amassed between $3,000 and $5,000 in items back home – items such as emergency battery chargers and flashlights, he explained.
“We got some stuff in New York that we were able to procure at a really cheap price,” he said.
After going through immigration and collecting his luggage, Newman said he and his brother proceeded right through the customs area toward the arrivals hall without a second thought.
For the Customs Authority, this was problematic.
“The passenger in question came to Israel [on Monday] carrying a commercial quantity of hundreds of items of different types and passed through the green channel, even though he was require to go through the red channel and declare the items – some of which require standards evaluations and legal import approvals of the relevant authorities,” the Tax Authority – under whose rubric the Customs Authority operates – said.
“There, if he had acted according to the law, customs workers would have explained to him the variety of options available to him, as occurred with other donors, to release the products quickly and in cases that we see fit, also with an exemption from taxes,” the statement continued.
The Tax Authority explained that “only once the passenger’s baggage was caught” did he explain that the products were intended for soldiers. Nonetheless, he provided nothing to show the IDF’s approval, as other donors have done throughout the conflict, according to the authority.
Newman told the Post that he and his brother “didn’t know anything about a red channel or a green channel.”
He added that he had told the immigration officers that he had arrived to deliver goods to soldiers, and they did not direct him to the red channel area.
Had he known that he was supposed to stop there, he would have been happy to pay the fees, considering he had already allocated about $20,000 for the trip, Newman said.
“I would have gladly paid,” he said. “It’s not like we came here trying to sell sunglasses on Ben-Yehuda [Street in Jerusalem] for $1.99 a pair.”
The day after the goods were confiscated, Newman said he and his brother spent at least four hours at the airport’s customs office, after which he was told that the authority still would not release the goods and that he would need to provide letters of approval and invoices.
On Wednesday, they returned to the customs office, and were eventually told they needed to file documents with the Economy Ministry, and that processing the request would take time, Newman explained.
In addition to spending time at Ben-Gurion Airport, the brothers have made their way to Sderot, as well as to southern hospitals and army bases, to bring the gifts they bought in Israel to recipients.
The Customs Authority maintained that its personnel were acting as required.
“Over the course of Operation Protective Edge, Ben-Gurion Airport Customs and other government ministries have handled dozens of shipments that were sent as donation to the soldiers, and they were treated professionally and efficiently while enforcing the law, in order to reach the soldiers as quickly as possible and without unnecessary hassle to the senders,” the Tax Authority statement said. “In cases in which senders and importers chose to operate according to the law and normal procedures, products arrived at their destination without delay, after it was proven that they were contributions.”