Eight human rights organizations today urged Attorney General Meni Mazuz to declare the IDF’s plans to demolish houses along the “Philadelphi” route illegal and order their cancellation. The media recently reported that the IDF requested Mazuz’s opinion on a plan to dig a channel and fill it with water as a way to cope with the tunnels being built to smuggle weapons.
According to the reports, the IDF presented three alternative plans for digging the channel. The most extensive plan calls for the destruction of some 3,000 homes, another plan requires the destruction of about 700 homes, and 200 homes will be destroyed according to the “limited” plan.
The IDF has demolished more than 1,700 homes in Rafah since the beginning of the Intifada. The new plans continue a policy intended at creating a “sterile zone” in the middle of a densely populated refugee camp. About 17,300 people have already lost their homes in Rafah as a result of that policy.
In their letter to Mazuz, the organizations state that the demolition of the homes of Palestinian civilians in the Rafah refugee camp to widen the Phildephi route flagrantly violates international humanitarian law. House demolitions of such magnitude intended to thwart the smuggling of weapons through tunnels violates the exception to the prohibition on destroying the property of civilians in occupied territory or during hostilities.
Military need alone is insufficient grounds for demolishing houses: the need must be imperative. To be imperative, it must be taken only after means less harmful to the local population were tried and failed.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch described a number of ways that have been successful in coping with the digging of tunnels of the kind used for smuggling weapons. If employed in Rafah, these methods would prevent the destruction of houses and assist in combating the smuggling of weapons. Despite the existence of these alternate methods, the IDF prefers the extreme and more harmful method – mass demolition of houses.
The organizations that signed the letter are B’Tselem – The Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, DCI – Defense for Children International, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Amnesty International – Israel Section, Physicians for Human Rights, Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, and Rabbis for Human Rights.