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Talking Points for "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip"

Prepared by Human Rights Watch for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
November 30th, 2004

Read "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip" here

Read HRW's letter to Caterpillar CEO James Owens here

Read HRW's press release calling on Caterpillar to end bulldozer sales to the Israeli Army

Visit the US Campaign's resources on the Caterpillar Campaign here

Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip

Activist Talking Points

  • The Israeli military has demolished more than 2,500 Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip in the past four years.  Nearly two-thirds of those homes were in the southern town and refugee camp of Rafah, on the border with Egypt.  16,000 people in Rafah – more than 10% of the local population – have lost their homes.

  • The destruction has had a major impact on the civilian population.  Homelessness is a growing problem in one of the most densely populated places on Earth.  17.5% of children in Gaza are malnourished.  Some 47% of all Palestinians live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
  • In Rafah, the destruction has mostly been along the border with Egypt, creating a Palestinian-free buffer zone.  In places the zone is now 300 meters wide, and the IDF has plans to widen it more, regardless of eventual “disengagement.”

  • The IDF gives two main arguments for the destruction in Rafah: to close smugglers’ tunnels from Egypt and to enhance the security of IDF forces on the border. While the tunnels and the security of Israeli soldiers are legitimate concerns, the government’s arguments do not withstand scrutiny:
On tunnels: Palestinian armed groups use tunnels to smuggle arms for use in attacks.  But the IDF is using the tunnels’ existence as a pretext to justify home demolitions and illegally expand the “buffer zone.”  The IDF has apparently failed to explore well-established methods to detect and destroy tunnels—like seismic sensors, electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar—which would obviate or reduce the need for IDF incursions into Rafah that have resulted in destroyed homes and sometimes loss of life. 
On security: IDF forces and Palestinian armed groups regularly exchange fire along the Rafah border. But under the pretext of protecting its soldiers, the IDF has taken steps that go far beyond what international law allows and what the security of IDF forces requires. In 2003, for example, the IDF completed construction of an 8-meter-high metal wall in the already cleared “buffer zone” to protect its troops. Despite this extra protection, the rate of home demolitions in Rafah tripled in 2003 in comparison with the previous two years.  No IDF soldiers have been killed when they were behind the wall.
  • In mid-May, the Israeli government approved a plan that calls for further widening the “buffer zone” by demolishing “dozens or perhaps hundreds” of homes. The IDF then reportedly recommended demolishing all homes within 400 meters of the border. Such destruction would leave thousands more Palestinians homeless.  Widening the buffer zone is intended to facilitate long-term control over the Gaza Strip after “disengagement.”
  • According to international law, Israel as an occupying power may destroy civilian property only when “rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” Destroying property to improve the occupying power’s general security or as a broad precaution against hypothetical threats is prohibited.  
Call on the Israeli government to cease its illegal home demolitions in Rafah and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Call on the U.S. government to press Israel to cease its policy of illegal home demolitions.
Call on Caterpillar Inc. to stop selling its D9 bulldozer to the IDF; the military’s main weapon to destroy Palestinian homes.