Israeli Army Destroys 73 Palestinian Homes in Rafah Refugee Camp

Israeli Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and bulldozers rumbled into the Rafah Refugee camp last week, a more common scene these days, shouting at residents over loudspeakers to come out of their homes with their arms raised immediately. The Army proceeded to bulldoze 53 homes in their entirety and another 20 were rendered uninhabitable. The official position of both the Israeli government and the Israeli military is that the operation was carried out in response to a Hamas attack, which killed four Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians, and that the homes were used as cover for Palestinian snipers and arms smuggling.

Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, included the following paragraphs in a recent e-mail message. They describe the Israeli position towards Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip: Reserve General Yom-Tov Samia, former commander of Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) Southern Command, in a live interview to Israeli radio on June 9, 2001 said: "The IDF must raze all the houses within a strip of 300-400 meters in width . . .. No matter what the future (final) agreement would be, this will be our border with Egypt (!)... Arafat must be punished; after each incident, another two or three rows of houses must be razed..."

A few hours before the latest wave of destruction was unleashed at Rafah, Dr. Eyal Gross of the Tel-Aviv University Faculty of Law advanced the opinion that ordering a soldier to drive a bulldozer to destroy a civilian dwelling constitutes a manifestly illegal order: “Under both International Law and the Israeli Military Code, a soldier has not only the right but also the duty to refuse such an order. Should he be court-martialed for that refusal, he can in all conscience claim to be law-abiding, while it was his commanding officer who was guilty of law-breaking.”

Israeli journalist Amira Hass asked the IDF about their actions in Rafah and reported her findings. They confirm Reserve General Yom-Tov Samia’s admission: “The IDF acknowledged that there was no direct connection between the Hamas attack and the area chosen for demolition, and said that the plan for destroying the houses had been drawn up several weeks ago but was temporarily shelved because of the relative calm in the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks,”

Israel government and military officials claim that 21 structures were destroyed, up from an original estimate of 14. UN estimates are that 120 families, numbering nearly 700 Palestinian civilians, including 300 children, were rendered homeless by this latest Israeli military operation.

In the last 15 months, Israeli military have completely demolished 460 homes in Gaza, which has left 3,275 civilians without housing. 90% of the home demolitions have been in Rafah and nearly half of these demolitions have occurred in the last few months.

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