PCHR began proceedings immediately after the Israeli occupying forces began what is clearly intended to be a large house demolition operation in Block O in Rafah refugee camp yesterday morning. By approximately 17:00, PCHR had submitted a petition to the Israeli High Court on behalf of 13 Palestinians families to stop the demolition. The petition also included hundreds of houses in the same area, which are at threat of being demolished.
For several hours the Israeli military prosecution attempted to delay court proceedings, but finally, at approximately 23:30 last night, the High Court issued a temporary injunction halting the demolition of houses belonging to the named petitioners. However, the decision is temporary and does not prohibit the demolition if there is so-called immediate military necessity. The High Court scheduled a session to consider PCHR’s petition on Sunday afternoon, 16 May 2004.
Since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000, Israeli occupying forces have demolished at least 2000 Palestinian houses completely or partially in Rafah, clearing a huge tract of land parallel to the border with Egypt. Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been rendered homeless. Demolitions are usually conducted without warning allowing no time to appeal against the operation and no time to retrieve possessions. Increasing numbers of Palestinian civilians have been killed or injured during such operations. The extensive destruction of civilian property carried out wantonly and unlawfully and without military necessity constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime as defined in article 85.5 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.
PCHR reaffirms its commitment to assisting the Palestinian civilian population in seeking legal action to secure protection from violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes, by the Israeli occupying forces. PCHR calls upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take immediate action to ensure Israel’s respect for the Convention and the protection of the Palestinian civilian population. Specifically in light of recent statements regarding an intention to conduct a large-scale demolition operation in Rafah in the coming days, PCHR calls upon the international community to take immediate action to halt the extensive destruction of civilian property in this area.