In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Israeli army finally withdrew from Hay Salaam. They left Al Barazil at about 11.00 that morning.
I went there a few hours after the invasion was over, along with many other people who had gone to see what had happened. To me it looked really different in the places where the destruction was concentrated. Some of the past ISMers who know this area well wouldn't recognize the roads around Abu Ahmed's house. I know a few people who had been inside the invasion. One man in Al Barazil was expressing distress about being trapped there for days without water or food and being afraid and feeling as though nobody cared. He was angry with the Israeli government and the authorities.
In Al Barazil, the army had done their 'work' well. They managed to blow up several houses and partially demolish dozens more. This is in addition to the massive destruction of the main infrastructure of these areas. Workers from all departments of the Rafah Municipality are still working in Al Barazil up to today. Figures from the Rafah Governorate, show that in Al Barazil, six houses were completely demolished and 27 were partially demolished. Also, the Al-Noor computer maintenance centre was completely demolished, as well as a plant nursery. In Hay Salaa! m seven houses were completely demolished and 19 houses were partially demolished. Eight olive groves were completely leveled.
I talked to the man who was the owner of the Al-Noor computer centre. He said, "I lost $5000, look what happened to my shop. I can't believe anymore that I once had this centre. Why is this? What is the democracy they talk about and where are the tunnels they claim exist?"
I also talked to a woman and her family whose home had been used by IOF snipers. Her home is close to the border. It belongs to the uncle of the little boy, Ali, who was shot just as Rachel Corrie arrived in Rafah and who she wrote about in one of her e-mails. Ali used to live next door.
She said, "We were sitting at home and suddenly we heard heavy gunfire outside. We soon realized the area was being invaded. Within a few minutes, an IOF bulldozer hit the garden wall and crushed the main gate of the house. Then about 12 well-equipped soldiers raided the house and began destroying the furniture. They broke holes in the walls of the house and used them as sniper positions."
"Twenty people live in this house. They imprisoned us in one room for three days without food. We saw the soldiers eating sometimes and asked them to give some food to the children who were crying. But they kept shouting in our faces, ordering us to stop. We survived on the water they allowed us, but there was no food."
She kept waving a red case, saying the soldiers had taken everything she owned. She was angry because they had stolen her jewellery. She used to keep her gold in a cupboard and after the soldiers had left the house she went to check on it and found nothing there but the red case.
The relief I felt visiting Abu Ahmed's family in Hay Salaam yesterday morning was uplifting. The family were back in their home. And their home was still standing. When the army entered Hay Salaam, they had been forced to flee to a neighbour's house, where they were trapped until the army left. But they were OK. Concerned friends from different countries were phoning to see if their adopted grandfather was alright. Abu Ahmed still had a twinkle in his eye as he picked fresh figs for me from the tree in his yard.
The army had scattered leaflets in the streets, indicating the overall operation is still only halfway through. The leaflets detailed an amount of military 'working' hours that had been allocated to the operation. A quick calculation showed that only half of these hours had been used so far.
I heard a very interesting thing yesterday. A journalist told me a scheme has been revealed by an official source, indicating that the military operation was really concerned with increasing the buffer zone in the border area, something which is certainly felt by local people. This in turn, has more to do with a plan to construct a settler road along the Egyptian border, than hunting for tunnels. The idea appears to be the creation of a new road for settlers, to connect the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip together. Apparently, settlers are dissatisfied with using the bridge road at Abu Holi. Also, Sharon doesn't want a potential Pales! tinian state to have any international borders.
According to this plan, there will be a military road behind the current wall, but the settler road will be built in front of it. For this, the IOF will destroy more homes and build another wall. It is not clear when the Israelis want to start building the road. However, there was an assertion that the IOF has hardly even begun its home demolition programme in Rafah. There is a concern about the prospect of thousands more Palestinian homes being leveled. The buffer zone will be increased further and more walls, barbed wire fences and watchtowers will also be built. To build just one wall, the IOF are destroying hundreds of homes in Rafah - ! over 1000 since construction began last year. Imagine if there will also be a road and it needs another wall to protect it and so on. What will the destruction look like?
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