Overview of events in Gaza since Feb 14th
Overview of events
in Gaza since Feb 14th
28 Feb 03
This is a large general update on the activities of ISM Rafah over the course of the last two weeks. In the interest of context and documentatio’ some information on violence throughout the Gaza strip is included in this report. The information include’ beyond the immediate experiences of internationals in the are’ comes from the international medi’ or eyewitness reports received by internationals in Rafah. This is not a complete record of deaths and house demolitions occurring in the Gaza strip since 10th February. Dozens have been killed here in the last two weeks. House demolitions have occurred. Dozens of greenhouses and other agricultural plots have been destroyed by tanks and bulldozers. The six-to-eight internationals working in Rafah during the last two weeks have not been able to keep up.
The initial part of this report includes updates on the major projects ISM internationals in Rafah have been pursuing:
1. Human shield work with the Rafah Municipal Water Authority (Leading to ISM activists coming under fire).
2. Direct action work aimed at stopping or hindering the destruction of houses by Israeli occupation force bulldozers along the border strip in Rafah. 3. Demonstrations in conjunction with community groups and individuals living in Rafah.
4. Investigation into human rights violations at the Mowasi-Tufah checkpoin’ and in the case of men killed in tunnels near Salah El Dinn gate in Rafa’ and in the case of the invasion of the agricultural El Hash-Ash area of Rafah on Sunday the 23rd.
These updates are followed by a brief calendar of events recorded since the tenth of February. Sorr’ everybod’ for the stress on your inboxes.
1. Human shield work continues with Rafah Municipal Water workers
February 2’ 2003
Internationals in Rafah have been continuing support work with workers from the Rafah Municipal Water Authority since Sunday 16th Februar’ following a break due to the Eid holiday. ISM-Rafah continues to send internationals to sleep at a third well in the immediate vicinity in order to protect it from destruction. The workers are currently building a barrier surrounding the "Canada Well (#P-144’ in the Canada-Tel El Sultan area of Rafah. This wel’ along with the El Iskan Well (#P-152) was destroyed by Israeli military bulldozers on 30th January. On several occasion’ the internationals have witnessed shooting from military vehicles on the settler road which passes along the northwestern edge of the sand-dunes and agricultural areas on the outskirts of Rafah. Bullets have not hit the ground or objects in the immediate vicinity of the workers or international’ a change from previous human shield actions with the water workers.
According to the Rafah Municipal Water Authorit’ the Canada Well had a capacity of 180 cubic metres of water per hour—35% of Rafah’s total water supply. The two wells destroyed were the largest of six in Rafa’ providing about 60% of Rafah’s total municipal water supply.
The Municipal Water office has made attempts to compensate somewhat for the emergenc’ by connecting the municipal wells with a private agricultural well which is owned by local farmers. The municipality also redistributed the remaining water according to district’ implementing a strict program in which each district has access to water for six hours a day.
The Canada Well cost US $25’000 at the time of its construction in 1990. Its construction was funded by the Rafah municipality. The El Iskan well was implemented by the Canadian International Development Agency—at a cost of US $20’000 in 1999. The municipality reports receiving $4’000 from the World Bank through the Local Affairs Ministry to repair the two wells. All of this money was used in the construction of fences and protective structures surrounding the well site. The municipality estimates that $30’000 will be needed to repair the Canada wel’ and $10’000 is needed to repair the El Iskan well. The municipality is waiting for money promised by the Japanes’ Canadia’ and Norwegian governments in order to restore the wells to capacity.
Workers at the well reported being fired upon on Thursday 27th February.
Saturda’ a Municipal Water Authority spokesman reported speaking directly with the Israeli District Command Office. He declared that he had co-ordinated with occupation forces in the area in order to ensure the safety of the Palestinian workers.
Despite receiving this permissio’ and in spite of the presence of banners and megaphone’ the activists and workers were fired upon several times over a period of about one hour. One of the bullets came within two metres of three internationals and a municipal water worke’ close enough to spray bits of debris in their faces as it landed at their feet.
This well is located within sight of the Rafah-Mowasi checkpoin’ settlement buildings and greenhouse’ bunkers in the militarized zone surrounding the checkpoin’ a low sniper tower to the south and a very tall sniper tower in the distance to the north. The activists were unable to locate the precise origin of the shots amongst the various occupation forces .
2. Internationals continue to take direct action aimed at hindering the demolition of civilian homes by Occupation Forces
Rafah continues to witness the destruction of homes and agriculture on a daily basis. The activists confront barriers to direct action work in most of these cases. These barriers manifest themselves in several ways.
Firs’ limited numbers of internationals are attempting to respond to demolition which occurs without warning allover the edges of Rafa’ a city of about 14’000 people. The most recent house demolitions witnessed were accompanied by the amassment of 20 tanks nearby in the border strip. There are currently seven international ISM activists working in Rafah.
Secondl’ with a few exception’ house demolitions in Rafah are carried out by bulldozers and tanks—which fire into the houses or begin to demolish them as notification to the inhabitants of their arrival. Many of the homes destroyed are empt’ because the inhabitants have fled with their belongings after experiencing gunfire through windows and walls and the partial bulldozing of their houses. The homes here are not targeted because of any connection with suicide bombing’ but because of their existence along an area which the Israeli army finds strategically useful. Thus there is little predictability about which homes will be destroyed nex’ and no opportunity for direct contact with the army in order to negotiate or notify them of the presence of internationals in the homes.
Much of the destruction occurs at night. Many of the streets of Rafah are impassable in the dark due to sniper towers positioned along the perimeters of Rafah. In the dar’ internationals attempting to carry out non-violent direct action rely on battery-charged light’ banner’ and the accuracy of unknown local collaborators to make the Israeli military aware of their location.
Another factor in attempting to stop the destruction of a home is a variable factor: the question of whether the driver of a particular tank cares about injuring internationals in the process of destroying the welfare of the Palestinians living here.
On the afternoon of Friday 14th Februar’ seven internationals responded to reports of house demolitions in the block O are’ with support from Palestinian organizers. They encountered two bulldozers and a tan’ which fired shots around the internationals that seemed directed at Palestinians in nearby alleys. The internationals stood in the path of the bulldozer and were physically pushed with the shovel backward’ taking shelter in a house. The bulldozer then proceeded on its cours’ demolishing one side of the house with the internationals inside. The driver then dropped a sound grenade out of the cab of the bulldoze’ and continued to demolish the hous’ at which point the activists were able to escap’ amid gunfire from the tank.
The next day activists responded to reports of house-demolition in the same area and approached a bulldozer while identifying themselves by megaphone and banners. They were unable to position themselves between the bulldozer and nearby structure’ and were beckoned away from the frontline by Palestinians in the area.
On the 11th and 12th and from the 21st till 23r’ internationals arrived on the scene of demolitions (home’ greenhouses and a mosque) too late to respond. This is in addition to house demolitions which the internationals discovered several days after the event.
On the afternoon of 23rd Februar’ six internationals achieved some success in interrupting the work of a bulldozer and a tank demolishing houses in the vicinity of Salah El Dinn gate.
The internationals arrived in the "Sha’ar" area near Salah El Dinn gate in the late afternoo’ and found the bulldozer completing the demolition of a house and chicken-coop near the border strip. Palestinians in the area requested the internationals to do whatever they could to try to stop further destruction. The group approached the bulldozer and tank from the sid’ carrying banners and announcing their presence by megaphone. Although the tank moved into their pat’ the internationals were able to manoeuvre into the path of the bulldoze’ at which point it moved to a nearby house and began to demolish a garden wall.
The tank again moved between the internationals and the bulldozer. The group split briefly while one member of the group moved onto the porch of the house from the back. The remaining internationals stood within several metres of the tan’ which began to fire machine guns near the’ close enough that one international was pelted with small brick fragments when bullets hit the wall next to her. The international on the porch led the way for the others to climb over the wall and into the house. They then proceeded to the roof. The bulldozer moved back to its previous work destroying a chicken coop and hitting the edges of other small civilian structures.
Two internationals remained on the roo’ while the remaining four proceeded back toward the bulldozer. The tank again fired a stream of bullets in their pat’ but desisted as the internationals continued to walk forwar’ reminding the tank by megaphone of the clear absence of any threat to the vehicle’ of international la’ and of the right of human beings to housing and livelihoods.
As the internationals positioned themselves in the bulldozer’s pat’ the tank and the bulldozer turned eastward and withdrew behind walls into the border strip some distance away. The four internationals followed the tank and bulldozer to the edge of the border stri’ fearful for the homes of friends in the direction the vehicles headed.
The internationals returned to the partially demolished house and helped the family living there carry their belongings—beddin’ furnitur’ family portrait’ dishe’ vase’ all the elements of a family home—into a house nearby. Four internationals remained overnight with the family in the house where the furniture was relocated.
The activists involved felt they had some success in this actio’ as they were at least able to delay the work of the bulldozers in demolishing houses.
On 24th February at approximately 9 p’ on their way back to the Sha’ar area for another nigh’ ISM activists received notification that the bulldozers had returned. Despite sprinting to the locatio’ the internationals arrived in time only to see the last of this family’s house completely churned into the eart’ as the mother of the family wep’ looking on.
Internationals continue homestays in the Sha’ar area.
Immediately adjacent to the Israeli military’s Salah Eh Dinn sniper towe’ from which two teenage boys were shot and injured today while playing in the street. The families in the area believe that they may be the target of house demolitions very soo’ as collective punishment for their proximity to tunnels which run from Rafah into Egypt.
All of the homes which the internationals sleep in have bullet or shell holes in the walls. From the kitchen window of one apartment where a woman prepared tea for the grou’ the most immediate object in view is the eastern window of the sniper towe’ about 100 metres away. The internationals observed several holes in the kitchen wall—apparently from shots fired into the kitchen window. The internationals have attached banners and stood on the roofs of some of the buildings with megaphones in order to make their continuing presence known to Israeli occupation forces in the sniper towe’ as there is a recent history of houses demolished in Rafah by rockets fired from towers at a distance.
Sleeping in houses such as these on the front lin’ with the constant sound of machinery moving outside in the border strip and frequent gunfire from tank’ internationals report seeing small children get out of bed in the night in terror to come sit close to their parent’ and report experiencing nightmares of their own homes being demolished. Internationals her’ who can walk in front of tanks on Palestinian land without being kille’ feel some degree of impotence in the face of this massive destruction of civilian homes. We can only imagine what it is like for Palestinians living her’ most of them already once-or-twice refugees alread’ for whom this is not a nightmar’ but a continuous reality from which international privilege cannot protect the’ and from which they have no economic means to escape.
The Palestinians and internationals in ISM-Rafah are still discussing strategy about how to use their members most effectively.
3. Demonstrations in conjunction with community groups and individuals living in Rafah:
In the last two weeks internationals and Palestinians in ISM Rafah have participated in two spirited demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Ira’ and against United States and British policy in Iraq and Palestine. The first demonstration took place on 15th Februar’ in conjunction with demonstrations around the worl’ and was attended by about 150 people. Reports on this demonstration have already been released widely.
The second demonstration occurred on February 23r’ and was attended by thousands. ISM was invited to participate in the planning of this demonstration by the Rafah National Committee for Development and Service’ but planning for the event was a coalition effort on the part of many community groups and individuals. These include the Fateh Youth Parliamen’ the Rafah Popular Refugee Committe’ the Rafah Children’s Parliamen’ the General Union of Palestinian Wome’ numerous Rafah area school groups and many others.
ISMers drafted a joint letter in conjunction with the Youth Parliament addressing the inalienable rights of all childre’ and the denial of these rights to children in Iraq and Palestine. They also called upon the international community to apply equal standards to all states regarding to compliance with UN resolutions. Copies of this letter were distributed in Arabic and English at the demonstratio’ and are available from:
The demonstration began at 11 and lasted about an hour. Children and representatives from community groups gave speeches in Arabic. Masses marched carrying signs and banners that said "Peace for children in Palestine and Iraq" and "The real terrorists are in the United States and Israel\’ among many other statements against war on Ira’ and in support of the Iraqi people. The internationals recognized symbols and banners from numerous school and community-group’ Fate’ DFL’ FID’ PFL’ Hamas and many individual demonstrators among those marching.
One international delivered a speech in Englis’ translated into Arabic by one of the Palestinian coordinators of ISM-Rafah. This speech decried the behaviour of the United States’ and British government’ recognized the linkage between war on Iraq and increased destruction of Palestinian live’ and also recognized the mass mobilization of people around the world on behalf of peac’ justic’ and human rights. The international thanked the Palestinian people for offering a continuous example to the rest of the world of resistance against all odds.
As this speech was delivere’ a British national burned a large British fla’ and a US national burned a large US flag. Both activists then burned numerous images of US president George W. Bush. The woman who deliverd the speech burned a picture of the houses of Parliament in London. As the speech concluded they began to chan’ with the crowd immediately surrounding the’ "Hurriyah la Falasteen" –Freedom for Palestine—repeatedly.
Other groups burned a giant papier-maché model of an F-16 bombe’ an effigy of Ariel Sharo’ as well as giant Israel’ U’ and British flags.
4. Investigation and Documentation of Human Rights Violations
From 11th to 13th of Februar’ internationals working with ISM made initial investigative visits to the Mowasi-Tufah checkpoin’ located between Khan Younis and the closed village of Mowasi. On their first visi’ at approximately 1:15 on
February 11t’ internationals found a group of Palestinians waiting at a road block within site of the checkpoint. Some of these people reported that they had been waiting there since 7 am. Many of the Palestinians there were fearful of talking to international’ due to the threat of reprisals from occupation forces. They reported that the Israeli occupation forces stationed at the checkpoint told them that the checkpoint would open at 2 pm. This visit occurred on the most significant day of Ei’ a major Muslim holiday during which most Palestinians in Rafah spend extensive time visiting their families.
At 2:40 pm a voice over a megaphone spoke from amongst the structures surrounding the checkpoint. And a small group of five men proceeded forward to a yellow sign approximately half way between the roadblock and the checkpoint. After a period of 5-10 minutes a voice from the megaphone ushered these men forward through a corridor of cement blocks. The internationals could clearly see machine guns pointed in the direction of the roadblock from bunkers adjacent to the checkpoint.
A slow stream of women and me’ apparently in their 40’s and 50’’ accompanied sometimes by small childre’ came out from behind the checkpoint through a similar corridor that runs between the checkpoint and a massive concrete wall to the south. The Palestinians at the checkpoint reported that only children under te’ women over 35 and men over 40 are allowed to enter or leave Mowasi. One young woman reported that she lives in Mowas’ but has been unable to return there for three months. She was among those waiting at the checkpoint since 7 am.
The internationals observed that groups of five people—alternately women and men—were allowed through the checkpoint at intervals of 10-25 minutes. They witnessed one group of women turned back entirely after a man came out from the roadblock to speak to the’ which precipitated some shouting over the megaphones.
On subsequent visits to the Mowasi Tufah checkpoint internationals reported attempting to enter Mowas’ and being denied entry by the Israeli soldiers stationed there. They described the security inside of the checkpoint as equivalent with that of an international airport.
23rd February Israeli occupation force invasion of El Hash-Ash Area
On the afternoon of 23rd February ISM activists in Rafah received reports of a siege in the El Hash-Ash agricultural community on the North-Western side of Rafah. Internationals were unable to respond immediately to this repor’ due to immersion in direct action against house demolitions described above. Reports received at the time reported seeing Israeli soldiers on foot in El Hash-As’ with the entire area under the control of the occupation force’ and gunfire and demolitions in progress. At approximately 7.30p’ the group received notification that the occupation forces had withdrawn from the area.
On 24th Februar’ three internationals went to the El Hash-Ash area in order to document the destruction there and interview people who had been present the previous night. The area they entered appeared largely agricultura’ with small one-and two-storey dwellings interspersed among the remains of greenhouses.
As they approached the are’ they saw large shredded sheets of clear plastic flapping from the mangled metal skeletons of dozens of greenhouse’ leaving the vegetables inside completely exposed. In most case’ the metal frames of the greenhouses were bent beyond recognition and lying on the groun’ crushing the bean’ tomatoe’ pea’ and cucumbers which had been growing inside. In other case’ the plants had been torn off their training strings and crushed on the ground. A smal’ one-story concrete-brick house with a corrugated metal roof was also partially demolished.
A man living in the area reported that he was ordered from his house by soldiers in tank’ along with approximately 150 other males over the age of 14 who live in the area. The men were herde’ by means of machine guns firing around the’ out of the El Hash-Ash area and under a sniper tower at the edge of the nearby Gush Katif settlement. They were held there for more than three and a half hours until about 7.30 pm. Several of the men were beate’ including six who were hospitalized.
While the men were hel’ 25 large greenhouses were destroyed by tanks and bulldozers. Residents in the area report that these greenhouses supply the sole livelihood for 300 people.
Residents had no idea why this attack had taken place.
One man sai’ "Maybe they want to expand the settlement." Others stated that there has never been any resistance activity in this area. "This was our living."
Events Surrounding the Deaths of 2 Men in Tunnels beneath the Block O area
On 14th Februar’ Rafah activists received word that two men were trapped or possibly killed in tunnels beneath the Block O area on the night of 13th February. After witnessing the continued presence of a large machine drilling holes into the ground on the border stri’ witnesses also observed ground-shaking underground explosions. Activists concluded that the tunnels had collapsed due to Israeli occupation force anti-tunnel activity.
On 14th Februar’ the activists received an indirect request from the men’s families to act as human shields in order for the bodies to be brought from underground safely. These requests were retracted when it was reported that the Palestinian Authority had negotiated with the Israeli army to allow the family to recover the bodies themselves. That night family members reported that five men entered the tunnels in an unsuccessful attempt to recover the bodie’ and that one of these men was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces.
16th Februar’ a team of ten men entered the tunnels from holes created at the surfaceby the Israeli militar’ and were successful in recovering the bodies. They were subsequently all arrested and transported with the bodies by tank to the Israeli-controlled side of the Rafah-Egypt border checkpoin’ according to their testimony to ISM activists on 18th February.
The men involved in the recovery of the bodies report that they were slapped and interrogated by IOF officers during their detentio’ and forced to sit overnight outside the buildings at the border checkpoin’ in a circle surrounding the bodie’ which they said was difficul’ due to the fact that the bodies were in a state of decay. They report finding fragments of a tear-gas canister in the tunnel near the bodie’ which they carried out of the tunne’ and which they report were confiscated by the soldiers who detained them. They report that when they found the bodies their skin was discoloured and bubble’ and that their chests were distended. The detainees were released on 17th Februar’ as were the bodies of the two men kille’ Zeyad Al Sha’ar and Mohammed Hamed Kishta. Activists in Rafah continue to seek more information about the cause of death of these two men.
Brief Calendar of Events
Tuesday 11th February
Underground explosions in Yibna and Rafah due to Israeli Army anti-tunnel bombs.
Group monitore’ photographe’ and demonstrated presence with banners. Tufah visits. Internationals witness aftermath of house demolition in Block J and another large explosion in block J-Yibna area. Abu Holi check point reported closed after army killed a man there. Principle day of Eid festival.
Wednesday 12th February
Continued underground explosions. Abu Holi closed several hours. Unsuccessful attempt to enter Mowasi-Tufah. 2 houses demolished in Block-J Eshroot area at 6 pm. Four tank’ two bulldozers and back-hoe returned between 9 and 10 pm. No further demolitions reported. Eid festival continues.
Friday 14th February
Reports received of two men trapped or killed in tunnels. Internationals respond to house demolition in Block O. Bulldozer partially demolishes house with internationals inside.
Saturday 15th February
International day of protest. ISMers participate in protest in Rafah. Tank blown up in Northern Gaza strip by resistance forces. Five person team enters tunnel in unsuccessful attempt to recover bodies. One arrested according to reports from family.
Sunday 16th February
ISM resumes human shield work in Canada/Tel El Sulta’ Rafah after break for Eid holiday. Ten men arrested and corpses confiscated after recovery from tunnels.
Monday 17th February
Palestinian ISM activist witnesses assassination by military plain-clothes commandos and two tanks on road between Abu Holi and Gaza. Man killed is later confirmed by international media to be Riyad Abu Zei’ a Hamas leader. Unconfirmed numbers injured. ISMers see smoke rising from settlement/Mowasi area for much of the morning—unable to identify source.
Wednesday 19th February
11 reported killed in Gaza during night of 18th February. During da’ four "Qassam" rockets reported by international media to be fired from North Gaza strip toward Sderot. Hamas claims responsibility. Water work continues.
Thursday 20th February
Checkpoints closed all day.
Friday 21st February
One man reported killed by army at Erez checkpoin’ another killed at settlement in Northern Gaza strip. Medicines Sans Frontiers group report being fired upon while trying to cross Abu Holi checkpoin’ despite prior permission from military. Mosque destroyed in Block J was abandoned previously due to earlier attacks.
Saturday 22nd February
Water work continues. International’ responding to reports of house demolition in Block ’ witness further underground bombing. Reports are received that one house was demolished prior to their arrival. Heavy shooting in Block J during the night. Reports later confirmed by various sources that Israeli soldiers on foot entered at least one house in Hi Salaam area during the night.
Sunday 23rd February
Large scale demonstration in solidarity with the people of Iraq. El Hash-Ash area invaded and occupied. 150-200 men held under gunfire containment for 3-4 hours. 25 greenhouses destroyed. Internationals intervene in house demolition near Salah El Dinn gate. Eight deaths reported in Beit Hanoun—including possible deaths by stabbing. Five houses reported demolished in Tufah area. Internationals unable to return to Rafah due to closure of checkpoint.
Monday 24th February
All checkpoints in Gaza strip reported closed during morning. Water work continues. Abu holi checkpoint alternately open and closed during day. House protected Sunday is destroyed during the night of 24th February.
For information on the above reports please contact Rachel at 067-857049
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