Israel/Occupied Territories: Demolition of houses is an act of collective punishment

Amnesty International today (January 14, 2002) condemned the demolition of dozens of homes
in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, as an act of collective
punishment and a grave breach of international humanitarian law.

     After four Israeli soldiers were killed on 9 January 2002 in an attack
by Hamas on a military post on the border between Israel and the Gaza
Strip, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) entered Rafah with tanks and
bulldozers and demolished houses.

     "Six hundred people, most of them children, were left homeless in
this raid against quarters that had no relationship with the attack on the
military post," said Amnesty International.

     The demolition of houses is one of the acts considered a grave
breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian
Persons in Time of War which prohibits: "Any destruction by the
Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or
collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or
to social or cooperative organizations ... except where such destruction is
rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

     According to Agence France Presse, yesterday the Israeli Prime
Minister, Ariel Sharon, said that tunnels were used from Rafah to
smuggle weapons and "we have to take all necessary steps to stop the smuggling
of weapons".

     "Over the past 16 months, at least 250 homes have been demolished
in Rafah making more than 1,500 people homeless, the vast majority of them
children," Amnesty International said, adding that in the past four
days, in the middle of winter, hundreds more men, women and children have been
 forced to live in donated tents.

     Today Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told the Knesset Foreign
Affairs and Defense Committee that he, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense
Minister Benyamin Ben Eliezar decided on Sunday to halt the policy of
demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. On
the same day as his statement, nine Palestinian homes in Isawiyeh in East
Jerusalem were demolished by the Jerusalem municipality allegedly
because they had failed to get planning permission.

     "Israel should cease this policy which has been universally
condemned," the organization added, recalling that the United Nations'
Committee against Torture concluded as recently as last November that
house demolitions may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment, in breach of the UN Convention against Torture.

Background IDF tanks and bulldozers entered Block O, in the area near the border
with Egypt, around 2.30am on 10 January and demolished 56 homes without
The following night, at 1.35am on 11 January the IDF shot heavy tank
shells on other Palestinian residential areas, Block J and Barahmeh, injuring
eight people, and reportedly damaging more than 200 homes, many of which
may now be unsafe for habitation.

     Amnesty International visited many of the areas along the border
between Rafah and Egypt where the IDF has been demolishing houses.
Sometimes Palestinians, who have been given no notice of the
demolitions, have been killed or wounded as their homes are destroyed. More than 250
Palestinian homes have been destroyed in Rafah since the beginning of
the intifada at the end of September 2000; the families made homeless live
with relatives or in tents. Over the past weeks the weather in the Gaza Strip
has been extremely cold. A week ago, on 7 January, five Palestinian
children aged between two and 11 from one family made homeless by the
Israeli demolition of their home in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip died in
a blaze caused by a candle in their tent.