The Israeli army has renewed plans to demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in Rafah at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli media. Army sources say the purpose of the demolitions is to create an artificial canal to prevent Palestinians from digging underground tunnels which could be used to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt.
A report published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday said Israeli officials were worried the demolitions would trigger widespread international indignation, especially in light of the gradual restoration of calm and the imminent ceasefire.
The demolitions, considered illegal under international law, could undermine newly elected Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas’ reported success in getting resistance groups to agree to a draft ceasefire agreement that could end more than four years of violence.
Israeli sources were quoted as saying the Israeli army will bulldoze or dynamite entire neighbourhoods parallel to the Philadelphi route, a 200-metre wide strip of land along the Gaza border with the Sinai Peninsula.
The demolitions could leave between 3000 and 10,000 Palestinians homeless and exacerbate the environmental disaster already wrought by more than four years of Israeli bulldozing and demolition.
The Israeli army says the demolitions are necessary to protect soldiers patrolling the Gaza-Egypt border. A Palestinian Authority (PA) official condemned the planned demolitions in an interview to Aljazeera.net.
“Israel is committing nefarious crimes by demolishing Palestinian homes and property. Israel can’t speak about a planned withdrawal from Gaza and at the same time intend to destroy thousands of homes in Rafah,” Majdi al-Khalidi, a PA foreign ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday. He said the PA will confront the quartet backing the road map peace plan - the UN, US, EU and Russia - with the looming Israeli action.
“The peace process in its entirety will lose meaning and relevance if Israel goes ahead with this colossal crime,” al-Khalidi said. He added that the PA would also ask the Egyptian government to pressure Israel into stopping the planned demolitions.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said the planned demolitions were justified by security considerations and in no way reflected an Israeli desire to harm the Palestinians. “The army wants to widen the Philadelphi route in order to protect Israeli troops patrolling the area from Palestinian attacks,” she said. The spokeswoman said the army would destroy homes only in the context of fighting “terror”.
The occupation army has already destroyed thousands of homes in the area. However, it contends that it is not enough to create the 300-metre canal to protect Israeli tanks from Palestinian missiles, which have a maximum range of 300 metres.
“Destroying houses that belong to residents of occupied territory violates the rules of international humanitarian law,” Dan Yakir, legal adviser to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said in a recent letter to attorney-general Menahcem Mazuz.
“Massive destruction of houses is liable to constitute a war crime. The accepted interpretation permitting demolitions is that the military need must be immediate, but in this case there is no immediate need for the demotions,” he wrote.
Fate of Gaza
According to Palestinian figures, the Israeli army has destroyed as many as 9000 Palestinian homes and buildings since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000.
Palestinian officials have long voiced fears that the Gaza disengagement plan is actually a plan to strangle the estimated 1.4 million Gazans since the Israeli army will retain control over all border crossings between the 250 square kilometre region and the outside world. “If the Israeli army retains control of border crossings with Egypt, this effectively means that the Gaza Strip will become the biggest detention camp in the world,” PA’s al-Khalidi said.
Israeli Vice-Premier Shimon Peres tacitly agrees with this logic.
“We understand that in the long run we have to give up control over the Philadelphi route. Gaza can’t remain closed from all directions forever,” he said in a speech at a Tel Aviv conference on Tuesday.
Khalid Amayreh is a journalist based in the occupied West Bank. This article was originally published by aljazeera.net and reprinted on EI with permission.