Destruction of houses and property on the Rafah-Egyptian border

Destruction of houses and property on the Rafah-Egyptian border

1 Jan 2011

The scope of house demolitions and destruction of farmland is especially extensive along the border between Rafah and Egypt. This strip of land, along which Israel has set up army posts, covers 16.5 square kilometers. Part of the strip lies at the edge of the extremely densely-populated Rafah refugee camp. Israel's policy of destruction in the camp has been systematic and continuous since the beginning of the intifada. In implementing this policy, the IDF has conducted a number of special operations in which it destroyed large numbers of houses in a short period of time.

For example, on 10 January 2002, IDF forces demolished sixty houses, and partially demolished four more, in the Rafah refugee camp, near the Egyptian border. The action left more than six hundred Palestinians homeless. The media in Israel and throughout the world published pictures of the residents and their demolished homes, and for several days the demolition was at the heart of the Israeli public debate.

The debate focused primarily on how many houses the IDF demolished and whether the houses were occupied at the time. The IDF steadfastly maintained that only twenty-two houses had been demolished and that they had been abandoned for many months. The residents, human rights organizations, and humanitarian organizations contended that the number of houses that were demolished was much higher, and that at least some residents were living in the houses when the IDF began its demolition. The public debate rarely addressed the question of whether the house demolitions were justified.

On 14 May 2004, the IDF initiated an action of wide-scale destruction in the Rafah refugee camp. Israel contends that the purpose of the operation was to prevent the smuggling of arms and materiel through tunnels dug under the houses. However, the fact that the operation began immediately after the killing of eight soldiers raises the suspicion that the motive was, at least in part, retaliation for their deaths. During the first two days of the operation, the IDF demolished 116 housing units (apartments and houses), leaving 198 families homeless.

Based on B'Tselem's estimates, which are based on its fieldwork and figures received from the UN and Palestinian organizations, since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada, the IDF has demolished about 1800 housing units in the Rafah refugee camp.