Since 14 May, the Israeli army has destroyed at least 10 homes and over a hundred hectares (300 acres) of agricultural land, leaving hundreds of people homeless and/or without livelihoods. In addition, the Israeli army is occupying Beit Hanoun’s industrial zone and constructing a new military access road between that zone and the Green Line.
On 20 and 21 May, a MSF team investigated the situation in the town and the immediate surroundings.
Large swaths of orchards had been razed, the bridge on the main road had been destroyed once again and several streets had been torn up. Five houses in the neighbourhood of Hai Zeitoun were destroyed, as were several other houses along the Salah a-Din road. Even the wall of a mosque was ‘punctured’ by a bulldozer, apparently because the muezzin was calling out for help for the families whose houses were being ruined.
In some cases, the families inside the houses were given no warning and had to jump out of the windows in order to save themselves. ‘We had only a minute to leave,’ declared one man. The families were unable to take anything with them and are now left homeless and without any of their belongings. Others were trapped in their own house and were denied access to water, before being thrown out of their own home several days later.
Twenty people were trapped in the industrial zone. MSF and other humanitarian organisations were denied access by the Israeli army.
Several houses have been occupied by soldiers during this incursion, some for several hours, others for days at a time. One house was occupied by fifty soldiers for over two days. When the father opened the door in the early hours of the morning, he was struck on the back of his head with the butt of a rifle. The 12 family members were placed in one room and their money was stolen, but the father managed to convince the soldier not to kill his cows and sheep. Others were not so fortunate: one mother described how the bulldozer not only razed her farm but took the opportunity to bury her cow, sheep and chickens alive.
The children and adults that the MSF was able to visit show signs of shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. Several families will need psychological as well as material help.
Since Thursday, the Israeli army has intensified its presence in this corner of the Gaza strip. MSF will return to Beit Hanoun on Sunday.
Isabelle MERNY (Paris) : 01 40 21 28 42; Peter ORR (Gaza) : (00) 972 8 285 0123 / mobile (00) 972 59 749 646 or Valérie BABIZE (Jerusalem) : mobile (00) 972 57 401 723/ bureau MSF (00) 972 2 656 6132