Rafah Bleeds
October 12, 2003

The Israeli army incursion into Rafah, codenamed “Operation Root Canal,” has left the refugee camp in a state of disaster. Despite civilian deaths, countless injuries and an estimated 1,500 people made homeless, Gazans can only expect more misery as Israel promises “the operation will continue.”

More than 50 Israeli tanks and other military vehicles backed by attack helicopters swept into a refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday, in what is becoming the longest Israeli incursion on the coastal territory.

Eight Palestinians have been killed and some 80 injured, as hospitals struggled to treat the influx of wounded Palestinians overwhelming ill-equipped doctors and nurses. Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy who was shot in the chest outside his home by Israeli troops, as they arrived to demolish his house. Israeli soldiers also killed two teenagers, ages 15 and 18. 20 of the injured remain in critical condition.

Many of the casualties occurred when an Israeli AH-64 Apache attack helicopter fired a missile into a group of people on a street in the Brazil refugee camp near Rafah. Najar Hospital was pressed to cope with the casualties, as they were unable to transport the wounded to larger facilities because of new Israeli military roadblocks. Wounded Palestinians reportedly had to wait for hours for ambulances to reach them.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees estimated on Sunday that 1,500 Palestinian refugees have been made homeless as a result of Israel’s ongoing vicious raid on their camp. "This is well more than twice as much as has been destroyed in any other action," Peter Hansen, commissioner general of UNRWA told reporters. “It would appear between 100 and 120 shelters/houses were completely destroyed and completely demolished. These shelters are homes to some 250-300 families,” he added.

Rafah governor Majid al-Ghal declared the area a disaster zone. “They have destroyed the roads, the water supplies, sewage, telephones and electricity.”

The operation was harshly criticized by the United Nations who issued a statement saying Secretary General Kofi Annan "deplores the killing of Palestinian civilians during the Israeli incursion into Rafah." He further reminded Israel that the disproportionate use of force in densely populated areas is not compatible with international humanitarian law.

During the last three years, Palestinians “living” in Gaza have been hemmed into an area a few miles wide and 20 miles long; ringed by fences, barbed wire and watchtowers on three sides and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. Israel's army, which controls the main north-south road in the strip, frequently cuts the enclave into three sections, further restricting movement between Gaza City in the north and the towns of Khan Younis and Rafah in the south. As a result Gaza has been turned into a prison with a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis.

Palestinians, especially those living in Gaza, feel trapped. They see no way out, given this cycle and ongoing spiral of violence and entrenchment of the occupation. As Rafah bleeds tonight, the international community must come out in force and demand Israel to halt the murder of Palestinians along with any hope for peace. As Rafah bleeds, the Palestinian leadership must unite to carry the burden of its people in the face of a brutal occupation and provide them with a way out.