Over the past four years, the Israeli military has demolished over 2,500 Palestinian houses in the occupied Gaza Strip. Nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah, a densely populated refugee camp and city at the southern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. Sixteen thousand people — more than ten percent of Rafah’s population — have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.
As satellite images in this report show, most of the destruction in Rafah occurred along the Israeli-controlled border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. During regular nighttime raids and with little or no warning, Israeli forces used armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to raze blocks of homes at the edge of the camp, incrementally expanding a “buffer zone” that is currently up to three hundred meters wide. The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat, in violation of international law. In most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity.
HRW reports on Israel/Palestine are always extremely well researched because of the political sensitivity of the issues they address. This one includes some very revealing satellite imagery of Gaza that shows the extent of destruction that took place. What’s important about the report is that it highlights that
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip holds little hope of relief to the residents of Rafah. Under the plan, the IDF will maintain its fortifications and patrols on the Rafah border indefinitely. The plan explicitly envisions the possibility of further demolitions to widen the buffer zone on the basis of vague “security considerations” that, as this report demonstrates, should not require a buffer zone of the kind that currently exists, let alone further mass demolitions.
The second report is about the crackdown on suspected Islamists that followed the May 16 2003 Casablanca bombings, which were a setback for due process and human rights in a country that was just beginning extensive reforms under the new king. But the report also notes some positive developments for Morocco, notably in the form of an “Equity and Reconciliation Commission” that is the first in the Arab world to be set up to look at past abuses. Still, the commission’s power is limited.