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Army at Rafah - Severe Violations of Int. Law

Army at Rafah - severe violations of international law

Soldiers and officers may be charged with severe violations. Those responsible failed to make army personnel adhere to legal norms, says Gush Shalom in letter to General Menachem Finkelstein, head of the Israeli Army's Legal Branch.

Following is the translation of a letter sent today by Gush Shalom - Israeli Peace Bloc - to General Menachem Finkelstein, head of the Israeli Army's Legal Branch.

Dear General Finkelstein

Last Friday (October 10) the armed forces of the state of Israel staged a wide-scale invasion of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and its adjacent refugee camps - the largest-scale invasion of Rafah launched during the three years of the present confrontation. In the course of that invasion, the army deployed armoured bulldozers which embarked upon systematic demolition of Palestinian homes. According to reports in today's Israeli and international press, 120 houses were destroyed - some of them being three- and four-storey houses in the refugee camp's main street - leaving 1240 people homeless. This morning (Tuesday, October 14) it was reported that the invasion of Rafah was resumed and that the bulldozers are at this very moment engaged on yet further destruction of Palestinian homes.

Destruction on such a wide scale does not, and cannot, have any relation to the army's effort to locate tunnels used by arms smugglers - the official pretext under which this invasion was launched. This is manifestly a collective punishment of Rafah's entire population, an act constituting a severe violation of International Law and specifically of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All soldiers and officers involved in these acts - from the IDF Supreme Command, through Colonel Eyal Eisenberg of the Givati Brigade, which the Israel press mentioned as being in direct command of the operation, and down to the bulldozer drivers implementing the actual destruction - are liable to be charged with severe offences.

This is not the first time that the army perpetrates such acts in Rafah. It is part of an ongoing policy, which started already in the term of General Yom Tov Samiya in the IDF Southern Command [1997-2001]. General Samiya was quite frank in describing that policy at an interview to Kol Yisrael Radio on September 26, 2001. According to Samiya, it is the army's aim to totally raze all houses and structures within a strip of 300-400 metres of the Egyptian border - a very densely populated area in which tens of thousands live - so as to create a fait accompli and ensure that this evacuated strip remain under Israeli rule in any permanent status agreement. Samiya also noted that the policy is being carried out incrementally, and that any conspicuous suicide bombing is being used as a pretext to "pull down another two or three rows of houses" (even when the bombing had nothing to do with Rafah).

Ever since the army is consistently carrying out this policy, causing a terrible suffering to the people of Rafah. Over the years, the Army's Legal Branch did nothing to stop this manifestly illegal policy, totally abdicating its responsibility to make soldiers and officers adhere to legal norms of behavior. This ringing silence has made the Legal Branch itself share in legal and moral responsibility to severe and continuous violations of International Law - and is increasing the chance that soldiers and officers may eventually face punishment by international judicial agencies.

Sincerely Yours

Uri Avnery Adam Keller For the Gush Shalom Movement

Note: the Samiya interview was extensively quoted by Akiva Eldar in the article "Under cover of revenge" (Ha'aretz, January 15, 2002) written in the wake of an earlier invasion of Rafah, in the course of which 59 houses were destroyed.

Appendix a) ISR [Amnesty International: Wanton destruction constitutes a war crime ]

Appendix b) [Arnon Regular's eyewitness report on the Rafah destruction in Haaretz, Oct.14]

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