Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Rafah's Pre-Disengagement Problems

A long catch-up report from Mohammed covering a number of topics, including the verdict in the Tom Hurndall case. Throughout Southern Gaza, residents are prepared for problems during the evacuation of the Israeli settlements.

On 3 July, a number of Israeli bulldozers and tanks invaded the western part of Rafah Refugee Camp, and left only after heavy shooting. Essam Al Abed, 21, was taken to Abu Yousuf Al Najjar hospital where doctors reported he had two bullet wounds in his left leg.

In the Tal Al Sultan neighborhood, also in western Rafah, twenty well-equipped Israeli soldiers, backed by armored vehicles, came from the nearby Israeli settlements and tried to enter the neighborhood. Gunfire was exchanged with militants.

In the Al Mawasi camp, which is cut off from the sea and from the rest of Gaza by Israeli settlements, settlers, backed up by anti-disengagement supporters from Israeli and overseas, tried to occupy houses in Al Mawasi and burn the Palestinians' fishing boats. The Israeli army separated the scuffling groups, but according to witnesses and the press, beat the Palestinians while dealing fairly gently with the settlers.

That same weekend, some forty militants from the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah party, took over the Palestine Legislative Council office building in Rafah. Although they were masked and carried rifles, their four-hour "occupation" was non-violent. The action was a protest against the authorities' foot-dragging on fulfilling its promise to find jobs for the militants.

Late in June, a Bedouin soldier serving in the Israeli Army was convicted of manslaughter in the death of photographer and peace activist Tom Hurndall in Rafah two years ago, and received a 20-year prison sentence.. Hurndall's father, a British attorney, conducted his own investigation of events in Rafah and had the backing of the British government in pushing for a serious investigation. After the verdict, he told reporters that the case had underlined a culture of impunity for Israeli soldiers operating in Gaza. "We are concerned that there is a policy which seems to be prevalent in Gaza among the Israeli soldiers and army that they feel able to shoot civilians really without any accountability whatsoever. So there are two issues here: one, the apparent tacit policy that seems to be in place that the Palestinian civilians are fair game; and that there is no accountability."

The Israeli human rights group Btselem said that innocent Palestinian victims were much less likely to receive justice, saying that Israeli forces had killed at least 1,722 Palestinians not involved in hostilities but in only two cases were soldiers convicted of causing the death of a Palestinian.

Rafah residents, particularly those in areas near the Israeli settlements, are braced for difficulties during the coming evacuation, as at least some of the settlers seem bent on offering violent resistance. Shooting from the settlements toward Palestinian civilians is a common occurrence. No one is sure if the Israeli army will seal off Gaza to prevent the settlers from gathering reinforcements, but border closures always mean shortages and hardship for everyone in Gaza.


At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Rafahpundits said...

Nice one Erika, this is much better than getting the posts later on Rafah Today and there is an RSS feed.

We have re-blogged this on our site.

At 3:01 AM, Blogger Erika said...

Thank you all!

Actually, thank Mohammed for his tireless reporting AND the blogspot software which even I can figure out!

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