Israel's Passover cleaning unearths some unusual military items

Israel's military is taking advantage of the spring cleaning craze that seizes the country ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover to encourage former soldiers to return gear they most likely should not have been holding on to. No questions asked.

Amnesty program sees veterans hand in everything from night-vision goggles to a snowsuit

Lt.-Col. Victor Lisha (right), a logistics commander with the Israel Defence Forces, and a fellow soldier look over some of the materiel returned to the military under an amnesty program. Some decades-old items turned up. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

What do you do when you find an old snowsuit in the basement and you live in Israel, where winters bring some rain but rarely temperatures that dip below freezing?

David Harrison knew the perfect place to take the aging piece of winter wear: return it to where he "borrowed" it from.

Harrison, who lives in Jerusalem, brought the snowsuit, a sleeping bag and an old army uniform to a collection centre set up by Israel's military.

"At Passover, you clean up the house and you find things you don't need anymore," Harrison said, as he held the green snowsuit over his arm. (He had used it a few times while on army reserve duty in the occupied Golan Heights, where it does sometimes snow.)

Among the long-missing military equipment that was returned to the IDF during its amnesty program were these 220 pairs of binoculars and night-vision goggles. (IDF)

The Israel Defence Forces have just wrapped up a four-week-long amnesty program, encouraging former soldiers to return gear they most likely should not have been holding on to. No questions asked.

Most Israelis — men and women — serve in the army, getting conscripted into national service at age 18. Many remain in the reserves until middle age.

Uniforms, weapons and ammunition are supposed to be returned after a mission or deployment ends, but some veterans hold on to equipment — sometimes for years, or even longer. Some of the gear returned dates back nearly 70 years, to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

"I do not believe people take it for criminal reasons," said Lt.-Col. Victor Lisha, a logistics commander with the Israel Defence Forces. "It's really just to remember rifles they had with them… and they took it home to show their children and to tell the story.

"But that's still against the law and they must return it," Lisha added.

A total of 1.3 million pieces of ammunition were returned by former Israeli soldiers — no questions asked — as part of the amnesty. (IDF)

Israel's military is taking advantage of the spring cleaning craze that spreads throughout the country ahead of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts tonight. This is the one time of year when it's common for Israelis to clean their homes from top to bottom.

And veterans unearthed large quantities of military swag, according to the IDF:

  • 457 weapons, including rifles and pistols.
  • 1.3 million pieces of ammunition.
  • 220 pairs of binoculars and night vision glasses.
  • 27,681 articles of what the military terms "general equipment," which includes uniforms, boots, sleeping bags and tents.

There were reports in the Israeli media that a former veteran returned a stolen army jeep that he had painted black and driven on back roads to avoid detection. But by the end of the amnesty program, the military said it received no such item.

"I didn't see a jeep," Lisha said. "But if it does come, we'll be waiting for it with open arms."

Biblically inspired cleansing

Leah Ahroni isn't parting with her weapon of choice in the battle to make sure her home is ship-shape: her vacuum cleaner.

"Now we're down to the kitchen. This is our war zone," she said with a laugh as she surveyed the last remaining room in the grand effort of spring cleaning.

By the time she serves tonight's special Passover meal, Ahroni will have pulled out every drawer and shelf in the kitchen, washing, wiping and vacuuming every surface. In an effort to make sure the kitchen is kosher for Passover, she will cleanse every trace of flour from the house — with the exception of matzo, a flatbread made with unleavened dough.

Leah Ahroni cleans every drawer, cupboard and shelf to make sure all traces of flour are removed, making the kitchen kosher for the Jewish holiday of Passover. (Ellen Krosney/CBC)

This tradition stems from the Bible, which describes how the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Their exodus to the Promised Land happened so quickly, the Bible says, that dough did not have time to rise and they ate flatbread.

Now, everything from bread to pasta to cereal is off limits for the duration of the Passover festival. Walk into most Israeli grocery stores and large sheets of plastic prevent shoppers from buying these products.

While it's hard work, Ahroni, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Kochav Ya'akov, admitted that she looks forward to the annual Passover preparation, as it's also a chance for some "spring cleaning for the soul."

"Passover is this time to stop, think about life. And really understand that I can really take a fresh start at any point," she said as she took a quick break from washing the kitchen countertops.

"And let go of the things that are not working for me. And really go ahead with things that work better, reach for new goals."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.


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