Report from Rafah Block ‘O’

Above: Seen from the bedroom window of a Block O resident, an Israeli bulldozer, protected by Israeli tanks, clears land. Photo by Darren Ell.

Block O is almost empty now. Most of the people have gone. The sewage flood is knee deep in places. One old man is walking around the muddy edges. His house is flooded. The 8 meter high, 10 meter deep prison wall that the Israeli military government is building — as it devastates Rafah — is growing. Reddish brown steel riddles the landscape that the Israeli military has destroyed. The standing houses now appear to be made of bullet holes.

Across from them, lining the wall, are sniper towers, green and draped in dark mesh. Israeli driven Caterpillar bulldozers have created another wall with rubble from homes — bed springs, a plastic rocking horse, some torn sheets, and the concrete that the homes were built with. This rabid destruction has further complicated the sewage drainage system in the area. A friend and engineer in the Water Municipality of Rafah says the way to drain the flood is to break this wall apart to allow a simple flow. The houses cannot be rebuilt. The area is under seige.

“When the tanks and bulldozers came, the people were panicking in the dark. They were grabbing for their children fast. The noise is of crushing concrete and people screaming. They ran out of their home into sewage water.” The man telling me this paces with his hands in his pockets. He offers a cigarette and says, “you are welcome here.”

There is nearly nothing left, nothing to come back to as the Israeli military moves through crushing homes, infrastructure, life. This is ethnic cleansing. But some people here are saying, “If we just had one person standing beside us, just one set of eyes from outside, we would take a stand in our homes. We would stand up here.”

A deaf man in the north did not hear the Israeli soldiers megaphone demand that he run from his home and was crushed, as was an elderly man who told his neighbors he could not be humilitated by Israel anymore.

The Israeli military government is targeting agricultural land and factories in order to crush the Palestinian economy, whatever might provide for survival here. This is part of the ethnic cleansing process. It’s psychological, economic, physical.

A doctor here told me, “They’re destroying our schools and hospitals. The factories they say make bombs are just factories. If we make cheese they say we’re builing bombs. They are destroying our fields, everything. They’re doing this so we have to buy their vegetables, all of their products, so we have no economy.”

A farmer, now living in a tent after the Israeli military bulldozed his house and most of his area in the north of Rafah, told me, “They are not letting us grow things. They just bulldozed my fields. This is my land. I won’t leave. We won’t leave. They can kill me here. They will kill me here.”

Due to this specific targeting of infrastructure, and to the constant closure of the Gaza Strip, unemployment has reached 80% at times. Five people looking for jobs left their home in the Khan Younis refugee camp this week. They tried to leave the Gaza Strip through an Israeli military checkpoint that only allows products to pass through. Israeli soldiers shot and killed every one of them. For a few days the Israeli government and the corporate media put them on Israel’s so-called “wanted” list.

A guy from Mawasi has not been home in 2 years. He told me this is Rafah, about 15 minutes from home. He says, “the Israeli government does not want any young people to be in Mawasi, they want to drive everyone away.”

There are no schools in Mawasi, save for a movable school caravan described as being, “only for emergency cases.” By this they mean for the young children, to give them something to do that might possibly help normalize their lives. They are so stressed by the constant Israeli attack that 50% of the kids are wetting their beds.

Sixty-one percent of Palestinian children suffer from anemia in this area, not from a lack of food to be eaten, but from a lack of appetite. A UNRWA doctor told me, “They’re too nervous to eat. They’re scared all the time.”

The Israeli Defense Minister is in Washington getting approved for an increase in the already 12 million dollars per day that Israel receives from the US.

Kristen Ess is a political activist and freelance journalist from New York City, who has lived in the West Bank and Gaza since March 2002, where she does solidarity work and reports for Free Speech Radio news and Left Turn magazine.

Related Links

  • Photostory: Home demolitions in Rafah by Darren Ell.