BY ELISABETH KEAN
& NORM DIXON
Beginning on October 9, a suburb of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah and three refugee camps on its fringes were invaded by the Israeli military. Israel sent more than 100 tanks and bulldozers, backed by US-supplied Apache helicopter gunships, into the Palestinian refugee camps and the semi-agricultural suburb of Hay Salaam.
Israel claimed its aim was to destroy tunnels it alleges have been dug between Rafah and Egypt. These tunnels are supposedly being used to smuggle heavy weaponry into Palestine. However, no tunnels have been found.
Rafah and its refugee camps are at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, near the border with Egypt. As part of its attempts to consolidate its illegal occupation and confiscation of Palestinian land, Israel is building an eight-metre-high metal wall around the Gaza Strip, with watchtowers and other defences.
To make way for the wall, the Israeli military has been demolishing houses within 100 metres of its construction. The majority of these houses are in the refugee camps on the fringes of Rafah. However, some of the more rural suburbs of Rafah, which Israel also considers too close to the wall, have suffered house demolitions and farmland confiscation.
During the invasion, at least 15 Palestinians were killed and 70 wounded, mostly civilians, 120 houses were demolished and more than 1500 refugees made homeless. Rafah governor Majid al Ghul declared the area a disaster zone. "They have destroyed the roads, the water supplies, sewage, telephones and electricity", he explained.
In one episode, as the military began demolishing homes, residents fled into the street. A helicopter gunship fired a missile at them, leaving two children dead and more than 60 people injured. It has also been reported that ambulances and private cars used to ferry the dead and wounded to hospitals during this invasion were also fired upon.
Israel's army has not withdrawn from Hay Salaam as it did from the refugee camps. The residents, at the time of writing, have endured a week of severe restrictions on their movement. Water supplies and electricity networks have been bulldozed, along with houses and olive groves.
On the third day of the invasion of Hay Salaam, the Red Crescent attempted to bring emergency relief supplies to the area. The military denied them access and then fired upon them.
The Palestine National Authority (PNA) accused the US government of encouraging Israel to slaughter Palestinian civilians. Israel would not have embarked on its latest spree of killing and destruction in the Gaza Strip had it not been for "American acquiescence and connivance", said President Yasser Arafat's media adviser Nabil Abu Rudainah.
Israel's attacks have little to do with destroying tunnels, but are the actions of an occupying force that wants to consolidate its position by terrorising the Palestinian population and create a "sterile area" between the refugee camps and the wall it is building.
Amnesty International has declared that Israel's actions constitute a war crime. Israel continues to escape official UN Security Council condemnation due to the veto power of the US. With this support, Israel assumes it can act with impunity and does so.
The Israeli military has upped the pace of wall building in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, declared much of the West Bank and Gaza to be closed military areas and has restricted further the movement of the Palestinian population. It has threatened to kill or exile Arafat and recommenced the forcible deportation of Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza.
On October 5, Israel bombed Syria and on October 13, the London Observer reported that Israeli and US officials had admitted collaborating to deploy US-supplied Harpoon cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads in Israel's fleet of Dolphin-class submarines, giving the Middle East's only nuclear power the ability to strike at any of its Arab neighbours.
A series of air raids in Gaza City on October 21 by Israeli F-16s and helicopters gunships destroyed buildings and vehicles, killed at least four civilians and wounded many others.
Meanwhile, on October 21, following the Security Council's failure to act, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the "apartheid wall", which is dividing the West Bank. It passed with 144 in favour and four against — Israel, the US, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. Twelve countries abstained, including Australia.
The US does not attempt to sustain even the veneer of being an "honest broker" in the "peace process". This might explain why a convoy of US security personnel, travelling in the gaza Strip, were targeted by Palestinian fighters on October 8. Three US nationals were killed. The attack was immediately condemned by Arafat and the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, as well as by Palestinian resistance organisations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Meanwhile, the entire West Bank has been under lockdown since October 7. No Palestinian vehicles are allowed on main roads, gates leading to Palestinians' farms through the apartheid wall have been sealed and Palestinians are not allowed outside their towns and villages. Five volunteers of the International Solidarity Movement — two US citizens, a Briton, a Swede and an Irish national — were seized by Israeli troops on October 12. The activists were helping Palestinian farmers harvest olives in the village of Awarta, near Nablus. The Israeli military has declared Awarta a closed military zone.
Please contact your member of parliament (<http://www.aph.gov.au/house/members/mi-elctr.asp>) to voice your concern at the lack of response by the Australian government to the crimes being committed by Israel.
[Elisabeth Kean is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement. Additional information from the Palestine Media Centre.]
From Green Left Weekly, October 29, 2003.
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