Originally posted by royc
'When We Came Back They
Had Destroyed All The Houses'
By Chris McGreal at Jabaliya refugee camp
The Guardian - UK
The Israeli general who commanded the destruction of the only Jewish settlement in the Sinai before it was returned to Egypt recently offered Ariel Sharon advice on how to carry out his pledge to remove settlers from the Gaza strip.
"Evicting someone from the home they've lived in for 20 years isn't a simple matter," wrote Brigadier General Obed Tira. "To remove a family from its home is embarrassing and difficult, and that is why the removal needs to be done with a lot of love and a lot of wisdom."
The soldiers who arrived outside the home of Ghalia Abu Radwan, her octogenarian parents, blind siblings and assortment of children in Khan Yunis in the middle of the night showed no love, and, if they were embarrassed, there was no way to know it because they were hidden behind the armour of their bulldozers and tanks.
As the loudspeakers on the tanks ordered the families out, and bursts of gunfire sharpened the terror, Mrs Abu Radwan shepherded her blind brother and sister to safety.
"I grabbed them by the hand and shouted to my mother to follow us," said Mrs Abu Radwan. "Think of it - 25 children, two blind adults and my parents who cannot run. My sister-in-law left her three year-old behind in the chaos and had to go back to get him. When we came back they had destroyed all the houses."
Mrs Abu Radwan's mother, Ommuhammed, said she thought she would also die.
"I kept imagining a piece of shrapnel hitting my head. I was so exhausted I had to crawl in the sand sometimes or put my hand on Ghalia's shoulder and let her pull me," she said.
"Since 1948, the Israelis have demolished three of my homes. This is the most difficult because before others helped us rebuild but now everyone needs help and I don't know who will help us."
While Mr Sharon agonises over how to draw 7,500 Jewish settlers out of Israel's Gaza colonies - offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to each family - the army has already bulldozed close to 9,000 Palestinians from their homes in the Gaza strip this year alone.
Most got no more than a few minutes notice to get out and lost all but the possessions they could hurriedly bundle together.
The latest target was Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza city. From dawn on Saturday the people came, trying to find their bearings amid the rubble and then scrambling across the sand where once there was an asphalt road.
A man ripped at the remains of his shattered home in search of anything that could be saved, burrowing out a picture, some clothes, a schoolbook. Another collapsed on to the wreckage, stunned and silent.
The tide began as soon as it was clear that Israeli tanks had pulled out of Jabaliya after 17 days of destruction and killing. The bulldozers left behind dozens of flattened homes and hundreds homeless.
The remains of the mosque were marked by its twisted steel minaret and loudspeakers. A sewage line torn from the ground spewed filth as people attempted to jump it. The only clue to the existence of a small orange grove was a few of the scattered fruits.
The scale of the destruction - about 20 acres of homes, shops and roads razed or ground into the sand - matched the Israelis' controversial assault on Jenin refugee camp two years ago. But the death toll in Jabaliya was double that with about 130 people killed, one in six of them children 15 or younger.
Within hours of pulling out of Jabaliya, the army's bulldozers were at work again in another Gaza refugee camp, Rafah.
"One would have thought that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip would decrease house demolitions," said Kenneth Ross, director of Human Rights Watch, after visiting Jabaliya.
"In fact, house demolitions have risen dramatically. This seems to reflect on the one hand a political show of force and Sharon's desire not to be seen to withdraw under fire, but also part of his vision to create a buffer zone along the Egyptian border. It is also part of a wider pattern of punishing civilians."
A United Nations human rights report on the Israeli occupation to be presented to the general assembly this month accuses Israel of "massive and wanton destruction of property" in the Gaza strip.
"Bulldozers have destroyed homes in a purposeless manner and have savagely dug up roads, including electricity, sewage and water lines," it says.
Most of the destruction is focused on Rafah, along Gaza's border with Egypt, and neighbouring Khan Yunis refugee camp.
But in recent weeks there has also been widespread destruction of homes as the army widened the "security zone" around Netzarim Jewish settlement, and in the Palestinian towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lehia.
The pummelling of Rafah in May left about 4,000 people homeless. Four years ago, buildings in the refugee camp ran right up to the military area on the border, known as the Philadelphi road. Half of Rafah's Block O neighbourhood has since been destroyed.
Even after Israel pulls its settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza strip, it will remain the occupying power under international law, and it intends to strengthen its grip on the territory's borders. The disengagement plan speaks of "widening the area" along the Philadelphi road.
"So far about 10% of Rafah is destroyed and if Israeli plans are carried through, approximately a third of Rafah will be destroyed," said Mr Ross.
With the destruction comes death. In July, a 75 year-old man in a wheelchair, Ibrahim Halfalla, was crushed to death under the rubble of his Khan Yunis home by an army bulldozer because he did not get out in time.
As Mrs Abu Radwan and her family fled, the army shot dead a 60-year-old neighbour, Ahmad Abu-Nimer, as he fled. Two other men were wounded by gunfire.
Israel says the demolitions meet the international legal requirement of military necessity because homes are destroyed in the hunt for weapons smuggling tunnels or because they are used by Palestinian combatants to attack Israeli forces.
The UN and Human Rights Watch say that is merely an excuse. They say it would be more efficient, and safer for Israeli troops, to detect and close off the tunnels behind the protective wall the military has built along the border by using listening devices and ground penetrating radar.
They add that the number of tunnels found is relatively small in comparison to the number of buildings destroyed.
The army claims to have uncovered 90, but that number includes several entrances to the same tunnel and the beginnings of wells.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
Blah, blah, blah. Now I'd like to hear the other side's story. I s'pose you wouldn't mind printing that, now, would you?