IDF Incursion into the Rafah Refugee Camp - Special Edition  

This morning, the High Court of Justice held an urgent hearing to discuss a petition by Israeli human rights organizations which contains a series of humanitarian demands concerning the residents of Rafah. The petitioners, B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights Israel and Ha'Moked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, demanded the IDF allow ambulances to evacuate the injured from Rafah to hospitals in the Gaza Strip, renew the supply of electricity, water, food and medical supplies to the besieged neighborhoods and allow access to the area to a team of Israeli physicians. The organizations also demanded the immediate investigation of the shelling of demonstrators on Wednesday, which killed eight demonstrators, including children.

During the hearing, the IDF claimed that medical supplies and ambulances are able to enter the camp. The IDF announced it would allow a truckload of medical equipment sent by Physicians for Human Rights Israel into the camp. The truck, which had been waiting for clearance since yesterday, entered Rafah immediately after the hearing. The judges announced their decision would be given at a later date.

Yesterday, Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz told the IDF to formulate an alternative to the plan prepared by the Southern Command for the expansion of the Philadelphi route. The original plan included the demolition of hundreds of houses along the route, which separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Mazuz demanded the IDF examine alternatives which would cause less harm to civilians in the area. Mazuz made these demands at a meeting he held with top IDF and Justice Ministry officials. He announced that he would convene additional meetings during the coming days to discuss the matter.

This morning, the press reported that IDF forces were pulling out of the Tel a-Sultan, Brazil and a-Salam neighborhoods of Rafah. B'Tselem continues to receive reports of humanitarian distress in the neighborhoods which remain under siege. As the IDF continues to restrict movement into and around the Rafah, some the following reports are based solely on telephone testimonies. The information provided has been verified as extensively as possible under the present circumstances. The reports are intended as examples and do not purport to provide the whole picture or the most grave events taking place in Rafah.

House Demolitions in Rafah
House Demolitions in Rafah. Photo: Reuters

Information on the petition
The Association for Civil Rights
Physicians for Human Rights
   IDF Destroys 62 Homes in the Brazil and a-Salam Neighborhoods  

B'Tselem research reveals: Over the last two days, the IDF has demolished 62 homes in the Brazil and a-Salam neighborhoods in which 741 people lived. 44 of the homes demolished were in the Brazil neighborhood and 18 in a-Salam. These figures contradict the numbers reported by the IDF to the media. As Tel a-Sultan is still under siege, B'Tselem has been unable to ascertain how many homes the IDF demolished in the neighborhood.

An IDF bulldozer hit the house of the 'Azzam family in the Brazil neighborhood in the south of Rafah. The entire family was inside the house at the time. At around 12:30 P.M., 'Abd al-Fatah 'Azzam heard loud sounds of something being demolished nearby. The parents gathered their four children in the basement as the father reported to the Al-Mezan human rights organization and B'Tselem what was going on. Only after about three hours, did IDF soldiers allow the family to leave the house. The soldiers then blew it up.

A day earlier, an IDF bulldozer hit the home of the Bradawil family in the Tel a-Sultan neighborhood. Bilal Bardawil, age 21, told B'Tselem: “I heard the sound of a bulldozer breaking the outer door and slamming into the walls. The entire house was shaking and I thought that it was going to crash down on top of us. We heard loud knocks on the door and my mother went to open it. Dozens of soldiers were standing at the entrance. They took the ID cards of all the males in the house and demanded we expose our stomach and chest. Then they confiscated our cellular phones and gathered us all in one room. There were fourteen of us in a room of 12 meters and one window. A soldier was sitting on a chair, pointing his gun at us. The electricity was out and we didn't have any food or water. After a few hours we felt like we were going to pass out from the lack of oxygen due to the over crowding. My father who is diabetic looked weak. My mother asked the soldier to let her open the window and get food and water for the kids. He shouted at her and refused. After a few hours, a soldier came and brought water, bread and tomatoes. He allowed the children to go to the bathroom...” At 4:00 A.M., close to twenty hours after their arrival, the soldiers left the house.

Haidar Hasuna from Tel a-Sultan told B'Tselem today: “Since the army demolished our house two days ago, my family and I have been staying with our neighbors. The neighborhood's infrastructure is completely ruined. The water supply is down; the sewer system has been hit; the electricity, phone lines and roads are cut off and the asphalt has been 'peeled' off the roads. The food in the houses has almost run out and all the shops are closed. Tel a-Sultan is completely surrounded. I can see tanks and bulldozers around 130 meters from my home. There are four ambulances there but they won't let them pass Now, I can see the ambulances turning around and going back.”

Hani Kashta from the a-Salam neighborhood, age 17, said yesterday: “I live about 400 meters from the Egyptian border. Ever since the tanks came into the neighborhood it's been impossible to leave the house. The streets are empty and all you hear is shooting and tanks. From my window, I can see two bulldozers uprooting our neighbor's olive trees. We're using water from our water tank because there's no water in the taps. Soon we'll run out. What little food is left will also run out soon. We're under tremendous mental pressure. We're scared. I go to high school in Rafah. I was supposed to take my final exams today.”

“Since the army demolished our house two days ago, my family and I have been staying with our neighbors. The neighborhood's infrastructure is completely ruined”

Haidar Hasuna, Tel a-Sultan
   Woman in Labor Climbs Rope from 2nd Floor to Give Birth  

On Tuesday, Asmaa Abu Ghali, resident of the Canada neighborhood in Rafah, had to climb down from the second floor on a rope on her way to give birth. Her husband, Sami Abu Ghali told B'Tselem yesterday over the phone: “She couldn't take the pain anymore and was about to give birth. I didn't know what to do. I called an ambulance, but everyone said it wouldn't be able to make it to us.”

Sami Abu Ghali spoke to nurses who live about 500 away who said they would help deliver the baby at their home. Abu Ghali said: “My wife couldn't leave the house and couldn't go down the stairs because the staircase is exposed to snipers. I had to get her down from the second floor using a rope. I got my 55-year-old mother down in the same way so she could go with her."

Abu Ghali lost contact with his wife and found out only the next day that she had given birth to a girl.

Yesterday, a Tel a-Sultan resident went into labor but could not leave her house to go to the hospital. Her sister called a local radio station and was put in touch with a physician who guided her through the labor live on air. The baby was born healthy.

Muhammad Yunis, a resident of Tel a-Sultan, told B'Tselem yesterday that his diabetic mother's insulin supply had run out on Wednesday. According to Yunis, his mother is in terrible condition since she had not taken the medicine. Yesterday morning, they got some insulin from neighbors whose son is also diabetic, but the supply had already run out by later in the day.

On Tuesday, we reported that a clinic in Tel a-Sultan had been surrounded by IDF soldiers who were preventing staff members from leaving. Later that day, staff members managed to leave the clinic on foot, leaving the ambulances behind. It was only this afternoon that coordination for the ambulances to leave was reached through the Red Cross and the Palestinian District Coordination Office. A Rafah municipality bulldozer removed the mounds of sand that had blocked the exit to the clinic's yard. At around 2:00 PM, IDF soldiers checked the ambulances and allowed them out of the complex.

“I called an ambulance, but everyone said it wouldn't be able to make it to us”

Sami Abu Ghali, Rafah
   Three Siblings Wounded by IDF Gunfire  

Yesterday at around 8:00 A.M, IDF soldiers ordered the Hassan family to leave their house in the Brazil neighborhood while waving white flags. As the family stepped onto the street, IDF soldiers fired at them from machine guns mounted on a tank. The Al-Mezan human rights organization reported that a 17-year-old daughter of the family was injured in the legs, her 15-year-old brother was hit by a bullet in the shoulder and a nine-year-old brother was lightly wounded by shrapnel.

An ambulance that was on its way to evacuate the three siblings sank in a dirt mound used by the IDF to block the road near the Bakker Mosque. B'Tselem field researchers spoke on the phone with the ambulance driver as he and the two volunteers who were with him tried to get the ambulance out and get to the wounded. Israeli soldiers in an IDF tank present at the scene were aiming their guns at the ambulance team at the time. The ambulance was eventually released at around 2:45 P.M., but did not manage to get to the Hassan family.

At present, the fate of the three injured siblings is unknown. The IDF Spokesperson claimed that the IDF had not cleared the way for the ambulance since its arrival had not been coordinated and that the passage of the ambulance was eventually made possible thanks to a tank that was present at the scene and cleared the roadblocks along the way.

Ambulance Sent to Evacuate the Siblings Sinks in IDF Dirt Mound
   Now's the Time to Act  

The Attorney General has yet to finalize his decision.Write Mazuz (fax: +972-2-6274481) demanding he declares the planned house demolitions unlawful.

Following is a sample letter:

I write to express my deep concern at the government's plan to destroy hundreds of houses in the Rafah refugee camp, in order to widen the Philidelphi Route. This plan severely violates international humanitarian law, to which Israel is obligated. Israel, as the occupying force in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is obliged to protect the local population and ensure its safety and welfare. While Israel may derogate from its obligations for military necessity, it must nevertheless balance military needs with the rights of the residents of the occupied territory. The planned demolitions will render homeless thousands of civilians who have not taken part in hostilities. I therefore urge you to determine that these planned demolitions run contrary to Israel's legal obligations.

Time to Act!