This morning, Wednesday, October 1, 2003, Israeli occupying forces demolished 18 houses in Block L of the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip. The demolition operation took place under intense shelling and indiscriminate shooting within the camp and was followed by further shelling as Israeli forces withdrew.
The operation left 270 Palestinian, mostly children, homeless, adding to the thousands of other Palestinian civilians made homeless in similar Israeli military operations throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Since the beginning of Al Aqsa Intifada (September 2000), Israeli occupying forces have demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes in Rafah in similar operations, justified by Israeli authorities for ‘security’ reasons. However, the facts on the ground prove that these demolitions represent a strategic policy to clear a large area of Palestinian land near the border with Egypt to facilitate a wide buffer zone to increase Israeli military control in the area. Israeli forces have begun construction of a concrete and metal wall parallel to the border with Egypt on land cleared of Palestinian homes in similar demolition operations.
According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 1am, Israeli occupying forces invaded the area, accompanied by tanks and 4 bulldozers, and moved 200m inside Block L in Rafah refugee camp, located adjacent to the Palestinian border with Egypt. Under heavy shelling, bulldozers started to demolish houses inside the camp without any prior warning and without allowing the residents to remove belongings from their homes. The military operation continued until 5am, during which time 18 homes were demolished; 13 completely demolished, 5 partially demolished.
As a result of the operation, 44 Palestinian families (270 people, mostly children) were made homeless. During the invasion, Israeli occupying forces raided the home of Ahmed Jaber, using it as a military post from which they shot at Palestinian civilians in the area. 2 Palestinians were injured during the attack, 1 seriously: Kamal Ezzidine Al Bashiti, 47, sustained serious shrapnel wounds to the head; and Khairi Abed Barhoum, 37, shrapnel wound to the right hand.
PCHR remains deeply concerned about the ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, carried out by Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT. PCHR has consistently reiterated its concerns about the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian civilian property, including homes, educational and health facilities, commercial properties, and civilian infrastructure.
The extensive destruction of civilian property, carried out wantonly and unlawfully without military necessity, constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. PCHR reasserts that the ongoing failure of the international community, specifically the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to intervene to ensure protection for the Palestinian civilian population has served to encourage further violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Thus, PCHR calls upon the international community to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT.