BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Persian Pashto Turkish French
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Middle East  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Gazan homes turned to rubble
Tents near Rafah
Most Palestinians who lose their homes move into the refugee camps
By Kylie Morris at Rafah in Gaza

The morning after Israeli tanks bulldozed his family's home, 15-year-old Mohammed al-Hams is squatting in the rubble of what was his house.


We had to sleep in the street the whole night - my four sisters, two brothers, and my mother and father. All nine of us

Mohammad, homeless Palestinian
His father wants him to go and stay with relatives in another town in the Gaza Strip, but Mohammad says he is staying where he is.

He had a rough night. It was after one o'clock in the morning when Israeli tanks and armoured bulldozers crossed into the Palestinian neighbourhood on the southern border of the Gaza Strip.

"They started to shell our houses," Mohammad says, "and the people started to escape, women and children, we had to get out into the streets."

Palestinians returned fire, but the tanks and bulldozers continued their work.

Mahmoud refuses to move away from his destroyed home
Mahmoud is determined to stay where he is
"We had to sleep in the street the whole night - my four sisters, two brothers, and my mother and father. All nine of us," Mohammad said.

By six in the morning, relief agencies had erected a tent camp to shelter the 25 families made homeless.

Israel says the clearance operations are necessary because the neighbourhood is used to fire grenades at its security posts along the border.

But the United States and Britain called for the demolitions to stop, describing them as highly provocative.

The United Nations commissioner responsible for Palestinian refugees described the bulldozing in Rafah as "senseless".

Flattened

From where Mohammed is sitting, it looks like an earthquake has struck.

Multi-storey concrete houses have been laid out flat, their metal supports twisted, and bent.

The ground is littered with wreckage, which on closer inspection turns out to be kitchen utensils, fans, furniture, scraps of clothing.

A girl plays at the site of a house demolished in Gaza last month
The US has condemned the destruction of Palestinian homes
The scene is watched over by an Israeli observation tower, a pillbox structure, covered with netting, and camouflage. Soldiers survey the damage from a safe distance, the other side of a high metal fence.

Further along the fence, sitting inside a tent, is a much older man, called Mahmoud.

Mahmoud's shop and home was bulldozed in May. Like Mohammed, he refuses to be moved to a safer place, and now lives alone in the wreckage, right on the border with Israel.

He passes the time listening to the radio, listening to news updates on the state of the Tenet ceasefire agreement between Israeli and the Palestinians, now nearly one month old.

Staying put

What Mohammad and Mahmoud have in common is a determination never to give their patches of land away, even if the homes which once sheltered them no longer exist.

Israeli police arrest a man at Shuafat refugee camp outside Jerusalem
The demolitions provoked violent scuffles
Their people have already been made refugees once - land and a home have a high value here.

Rafah is not really a town. It is a big refugee camp, which blossomed with the creation of Israel in 1948. I was a haven to Palestinians from southern villages, and Bedouin from Beer Sheva.

Now there are 100,000 inhabitants, squeezed between the Egyptian border to the South, Gaza Airport to the East, and Israeli settlements to the north and west.

'Punishment'

Palestinian human rights activist, Issam Younis, says incursions, like the bulldozing operations by Israeli Defence Forces this week, are clearly aimed to defer, to terrify and to punish.

As for its effects on the community, he says the bulldozing deprives families of the right to live in their houses, and forces them out of what then becomes a military zone.

Others, although their houses escape demolition, are forced to move, because the neighbourhood has become unsafe.

Most of the casualties of the latest round of bulldozing now live in tents on a dusty square some distance from the border.

Safe havens are in short supply in Rafah. But as Mohammad says, "We will protect and defend this place, until God decides."


Key stories

Profiles

FACTFILE

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

10 Jul 01 | Middle East
11 Jul 01 | Middle East
04 Jul 01 | Middle East
27 Jun 01 | Middle East
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes