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RAZING RAFAH - Human Rights Watch Report

RAZING RAFAH - very sharp report of Human Rights Watch TOI-Billboard (special edition) October 19, 2004

[] Report: Israel violating int'l law by destroying homes in Gaza [] About picking olives & the anarchists' day in court (Adam Keller)


[] Report: Israel violating int'l law by destroying homes in Gaza

By The Associated Press

internet:Last Update: 18/10/2004 18:42 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/490329.html

JERUSALEM - Israel has violated international law by systematically destroying Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah in a bid to create a buffer zone along the border with Egypt, according to a human rights re port released Monday.

The report, by New York-based Human Rights Watch, also accused the Israeli military of exaggerating the threat posed by weapons smuggling tunnels running from Rafah to Egypt - the main justification for home demolitions - and failing to use less destructive measures to uncover and destroy the tunnels.

"We've seen the piece by piece destruction of up to 10 percent of Rafah," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Since fighting began four years ago, some 16,000 people have been made homeless in Rafah, many of them during a large-scale army incursion in May, the report said. Roth called the destruction gratuitous, saying the army was retaliating for the killing of five soldiers on the patrol road along the border.

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The army, which had no immediate comment on the report, says the demolition of homes along the Gaza-Egypt border is needed to prevent Palestinian militants from smuggling arms through tunnels. Also, the houses provide gunmen with cover to attack troops patrolling the border.

"Neither excuse could justify the wholesale destruction in Rafah," Roth said.

The 135-page report, titled "Razing Rafah," argues that the security considerations are secondary to Israel's desire for a large clear border area to "facilitate long-term control over the Gaza Strip."

"The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat," the report said, basing its findings on tours of the area and satellite imagery.

The military mind-set "is based on the assumption that every Palestinian is a potential suicide bomber and every home a potential base for attack," the report said.

Israel has violated international law by failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants and it did not live up to its responsibilities as an occupying power to protect civilians under its control, the report said.

The report also charged Israel with exaggerating the threat of the weapons smuggling tunnels.

Israel has called the tunnels the lifeline of Palestinian militants in Gaza, allowing them to arm themselves with weapons and explosives.

But the report, citing military experts, said the army has failed to use an array of effective counter-tunnel measures employed in other places, including the U.S.-Mexico border and the Korean demilitarized zone, where tunnels are also a problem.

The military could have access to underground seismic sensors, electromagnetic induction and ground penetrating radar to detect and destroy the tunnels without having to demolish houses, the report said.

By demolishing the homes, the army is only destroying the entrance shafts to the tunnels and not the tunnels themselves, allowing the Palestinians to dig new entrances, the report said.

Military officials told Human Rights Watch that they had spent only US$10 million on tunnel detection during the last four years of conflict with the Palestinians, Roth said.

"We were shocked," he said. "That is a minuscule amount compared to the overall military budget."

The group called on Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc. to stop selling bulldozers to the Israeli military. ~~~

[] About picking olives & the anarchists' day in court (Adam Keller)

October 17, morning. No less than twenty-five people turned up at the rendezvous point, having taken the day off from their normal work in order to participate at the olive harvest in Palestinian villages suffering from settler harassments, and the mini-bus chartered by Rabbis for Human Rights was overcrowded. "This is the kind of trouble which we hope to have often" said Yoav, the RHR coordinator, with a smile.

We passed with no trouble the checkpoint at the West Bank entry, where on the previous day olive harvester buses were turned back and three organizers taken to police detention for several hours. Past the bored soldiers at the checkpoint, we were on the "Trans-Samaria Route", bisecting the West Bank from west to east. An ultra-modern four-lane highway, with all cars bearing Israeli licence plates and a considerable number of them also displaying extreme-right bumper stickers. In the past four years, Palestinian cars are banned from this road, which is reserved for Israeli traffic (which mostly means settler traffic). Later on we would see the alternate route to which the east-west Palestinian traffic was diverted - a narrow, winding, mostly unpaved mountain track...

"We are today asked to help three villages" says Yoav. "The largest number of working hands are needed at Beit Furik. At Jama'een and Yassouf, there are international volunteers already working on the the olive groves, but there must be some Israelis with them. It is very important that if soldiers or settlers come, they will encounter Hebrew speakers."

Yassouf, home to some two thousand inhabitants, is overshadowed in all possible ways by the settlement of Tapuach - a cluster of imitation-European houses with red tile roofs, perched on the ridge above and visible from any point in the village. Tapuach is a stronghold of the followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who preached the expulsion of all Arabs. "We suffer very much from them. Last week they beat up one of our people, stole the sacks of olives he had filled and also his horse. We talked to the army and police but the horse is not yet given back. His owner hears him neighing in the night from up there".

A young man named Hisham volunteers to guide us to the plot where Palestinian families were already working with volunteers of the IWPS (International Women's Peace Service). "The plot of my own family is fortunately on the other side, but we all try to help the people who are suffering most" he said as we walked down the narrow track, with the settlement houses above growing nearer and nearer. Suddenly, we were face to face with a settler, some fifty metres distant - a shepherd, riding a donkey and accompanied by three fierce-looking dogs. We were too distant to hear what he said, but his gestures made clear it was not a compliment. Then he turned back and disappeared. In between, an army jeep and a police patrol car were parked, a fragile buffer.

We went among the olive trees, many of which had blackened boles. "A few days ago they came and tried to set this plot on fire. Fortunately, the Palestinian and the Israeli fire brigades both arrived quite quickly, and together they put off the fire and saved most of the trees" told Hisham. To our surprise, one of our own party admitted to being a settler of a kind herself. "I live in Ma'aleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem. When I came on Aliya from Australia eight years ago, my father was already living there, and it seemed like just another Jerusalem suburb. Perhaps a bit more Likud-oriented than average, but nothing like this horrific Tapuach place. I am now involved in an interfaith group in Jerusalem, bringing together Jews, Muslims and Christians, and I try to get our community centre at Ma'aleh Adumin to host Palestinians. That's a difficult idea to get across where I live".

A few more rows of trees and we arrived at the olives of the Abdel Fatah family - three brothers with their respectives wives and children. A family enterprise, with strong young men making the agile climb to the tree tops and merry young children playfully picking up fallen olives from the ground. A short introduction, and we set to work. Olive picking is a companionable work, and we soon learned that - aside from the Palestinians - there were around the tree a Puerto Rican from Massachusetts , an Irish woman married to a Palestinian and living in Spain, and a couple of Austrians. "I was born in Kuwait" says Rajaa, a young family mother speaking English with a trace of an American accent. "We had a good life there, before Saddam invaded. After finishing highschool, I went to visit Yassouf where my father was born, and I got married and stayed here." We take a break, and our hosts insist on feeding us, despite themselves being on fast. "Ramadan is for us, not for you. A pity you can't stay the night and share with us the real meal, the breaking of the fast. At least you must have a bite to eat now, you are our guests." By noon, the Abdel Fatah trees are about fully harvested and the family prepares to move to the village centre, when we get an urgent call on the cellular phone. "If you are free, please come over here. We have a bit of an emergency and need more hands. We are five rows ahead of you, near to where the army and police cars are parked. Just walk forward, and take care not to move out of the olive grove into the open field." When we get to the other group, we find them working with frantic speed. "The soldiers came and told us these trees are not in the protected sphere, that we have to clear out in a quarter of hour" says Dan Tamir, former intelligence officer who served prison terms for refusing service in the Occupied Territories. "We must make the most of the time we have. Don't go for individual olives, try to find the bigger clumps where you get many at once. Quick, now!" However, the fifteen minutes pass, and another fifteen, without the soldiers coming to enforce their eviction edict. On the pass, we see a white car parked near the army and police. "That's the settler security patrol, the whole trouble started after they showed up. The white car starts off for the settlement, comes back, goes again. As after all we have more time, Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals go back to more thorough scouring of the trees."

A bit after 2.00 PM the settler white car arrives again, and somebody gets out of it and approaches the army jeep. We can't hear them, but immediately afterwards the soldiers come again. "This is it, you must clear out of right now, no more delays!" - "The harvest is finished in this part, we just wait for the white donkey to come back and bear the last full sack." - "But there is no need for so many of you to wait for the donkey, is there?" It is decided that the internationals would go back already, while Israelis and Palestinians stay with the increasingly impatient and irritated soldiers. But the wait is finally over, and soon we depart back up the mountain trail - two Palestinians and two Israelis behind a snow-white donkey bearing, if not the Messiah, at least a sack with fifty kilograms of olives.

* * *

Twenty-four hours later, the sedate Magistrate's Court in Tel-Aviv got a whiff of the Wild West Bank atmosphere when eleven of the Anarchists Against Walls showed up to answer a variety of charges, ranging from holding an illegal demonstration to obstructing policemen and assaulting policemen and up to "defacing real property" (i.e., writing graffiti). The charges all referred to a single event, lasting less than ten minutes, on the afternoon of February 25 this year - the day when the International Court at the Hague started deliberating on the construction by the Sharon Government of the Separation Wall which cuts through Palestinian villages and towns. The Anarchists had planned to mark this day by a joint demonstration with the inhabitants of a village which lost most of its land because of the Wall/Fence. But the army and police got wind of these plans, and the group was intercepted at the West Bank border and forced to turn back - whereupon they drove directly to the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv, sat down on the street in front of its gates, and were immediately pounced upon by the police. One of beaten to the point of losing consciousness, another one needed to be hospitalized, and thirteen in all spent the night in detention. On the following morning, the police asked the duty judge to keep them under house arrest "until the Hague Court ends its deliberations" but the Duty Judge rejected this idea and granted them bail. It was then that the police and public prosecutor decided to prefer charges against them -leading to today's rather grotesque affair.

With a variety of tattoos and unconventional hair styles and accompanied by several sympathizing, well-known artists and actors, the accused young men and women stood in the court house lobby - displaying to the many media representatives their T-shirts with the text "We will not be silenced" and covering their mouths with strips of black sticky tape. That was enough for the court house guards to snap into action, shout "No demonstrating on court premises" and push the offending activists into an empty courtroom, where they were made to take off the offending shirts (of which the TV cameras already got their fill, anyway). It took quite a bit before they finally made it to Judge Muki Landman's hall and sat down in the overcrowded dock, with the spectator benches equally crowded with their supporters.

Defence Lawyer Gabi Lasky began by asking the court to dismiss the charges out of hand, on the basis of Natural Law (or "estoppel" in lawyers' jargon). She began with a long exposition on the Wall and the way it disrupts the daily life of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, quoting extensively from the reports of various human rights organizations which she also presented to the court as evidence. Many judges would have rejected all this as irrelevant - Landman did not. Adv. Laski made special reference to the inhabitants of the so-called "Seam Area", where the accused originally intended to demonstrate on February 25. "The Seam Area has been declared a closed military zone, where entry is forbidden. Even if you were born there and your parents before you, and even if you lived there all your life, you must apply for a special permit from the army in order to stay in your own home and work your own field. But by the same military order, citizens of Israel are exempt and may enter the Seam Area without needing any permit. And not only Israeli citizens, also 'those who have the right to Israeli citizenship under the law of return', that is - Jews. Yes, a Jew from Brooklyn or from Timbuktu could land at Ben Gurion Airport, go the Seam Area and stay there as long as he wants, without needing any permit - but a Palestinian who was born there needs a permit from the army to live in his own home! It was against this kind of blatant injustice that the accused tried to protest, first in the Seam Area itself, then when this was denied at the Ministry of Defence where this infamous military order originated. They acted according to the Categorical Imperative of the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, according to which every person must act as if his and her life is setting the moral example for the whole world. They acted according to the Talmud, which states that a man would not be considered truly righteous, even if he followed all of God's commandmnents, if he had failed to cry out against an injustice of which he was aware. On the basis of Natural Law, the case against them should be dismissed".

"I will reserve my response to counsel's argument until later" responded Judge Landman. "But first I must draw the prosecution's attention to some obvious concrete defects in the charge sheet. For example, accused no.7 is accused of assaulting policemen, but there is no concrete act attributed to her which would substantiate that charge. The same with accused no. 1 being charged with hindering a policeman in the execution of his duties. Exactly what did she do, Mr. Prosecutor? Sitting on the road for all of three minutes and refusing to get up when ordered by the policeman, that's hindering him in the execution of his duties? Hmmm. And about the rest of them, in what did the assault on the police consist? "Kicking the police while being carried to the patrol car? Well, I suppose if you prove that they did do that, yes, it would technically count as assault. Still, I seem to recall that during the evacuation of Yamit and other Sinai settlements [in 1982] the settlers did quite a bit more than that, and none of them was prosecuted. A good thing, too. There should be toleration built into the prosecution policy, some leeway. We are now entering a period of debate and controversy. We will have many demonstrations by many people and groups who have something very urgent to say, and I don't care if they are from the left-wing or right-wing, protesting the erection of the fence or the dismantling of settlements. From the policy of the prosecution in this case, I suppose we will see all of them marching into this court-room by the dozen. We may have to set up a special court for demonstrators, like there is already a special court for the deportation of migrant workers. If that's what you want, fine! Anyway, I am giving the prosecution a week to reconsider, do they really want to proceed with this case. If they still do, I will then state my ruling on the defence's request with regard to Natural Law. Until then, everybody is dismissed."

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