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Gazans Pile Up Their Belongings and Flee
by Amira Hass
May 18, 2004
First Published in Ha'aretz

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The streets of Rafah were filled yesterday evening with horse-drawn carts, trucks and pick-ups, all laden to the brim with any and every item that the town's residents could remove from their homes - mattresses, water tanks taken down from roofs, clothes, blankets, doors and windows removed from their hinges, dismantled beds and closets, school books, tin and asbestos sheeting, baby carriages, refrigerators, gas canisters and more.

Everyone living up to 300 meters from the border with Egypt and the Israel Defense Forces positions and machine guns; everyone who saw IDF bulldozers raze the homes of his neighbors; everyone who could and had not yet cleared his home of its contents; everyone living close to the site where an IDF armored personnel carrier was blown up last Wednesday - all hastily packed up their belongings. And when the loading was completed, the women sat at the entrances to the homes, on concrete blocks or plastic chairs, and watched the vehicles roll north, to neighborhoods far from the bulldozers.

The families who petitioned the High Court of Justice this weekend against the house demolitions also emptied their homes yesterday. On Saturday, after the High Court issued a "qualified temporary injunction" that stopped the IDF "from carrying out planned demolitions of any of the homes of the petitioners," there were those who felt a sense of reprieve. One of the petitioners, a big man, burst into tears unashamedly in public on hearing the High Court order. But yesterday morning, after the High Court hastily rejected the petitions, the petitioners understood that they had better try to at least save the contents of their homes.

Such was the understanding, for example, of Massad and Ahlam Kishta, and Fauzi a-Sha'ar - two of the petitioners. They live on Abu Jamal Street, between Salah a-Din Street and Harakevet Street, under the eyes of the IDF's Termit outpost. Yesterday at 6 P.M., their homes were practically empty.

The Kishta and a-Sha'ar families are two of the original clans of the area, not refugee families. Their homes were built on their privately owned land, where some 40-50 years ago they cultivated vegetables and watermelons. The Kishta family father moved to the area in 1956; and in the 1980s, the Kishtas began gradually building a concrete home for the expanding family.

The Kishta family has stopped counting the number of times IDF bulldozers, supported by tanks, APCs and helicopters, have demolished homes in the area - maybe five, or six. On one occasion, a bulldozer destroyed their bedroom, from where they now look out onto the steel wall the army is erecting along the border, the Termit outpost, bare concrete houses, and piles of rubble between the sand dunes. Last Thursday, bullets and shells left holes in the walls of their son Abed's home.

On Thursday and Friday, more homes belonging to members of the Kishta clan were demolished, when APCs, tanks and helicopters raided the area. A missile was fired at a group of women; seven people were killed. Rafah residents vehemently deny IDF claims that the army was targeting armed Palestinians. Human rights organizations in the town said all those killed were civilians.

"Two years ago, they tore down my first house on top of me," says one of the daughters of the a-Sha'ar family. "Now, the moment I heard them approaching, I fled."

Another a-Sha'ar family member notes, "The IDF says it only demolishes empty homes. First they chase us out the home with heavy fire, and then they can demolish it because it's empty. Do they want us to remain in the house while they are shelling it so that they won't destroy it?"

According to a rumor that began to spread last night, the IDF is planning to close off the road between Gaza City and Rafah over the next three days. A number of people see this a sign that the demolition work will be renewed - under the cover of a blackout from the entire world.

Amira Hass is an award-winning Israeli journalist who lives in Ramallah in the West Bank. She is author of Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land and Drinking the Sea At Gaza: Days and Nights In A Land Under Siege (Owl Books, 2000). She writes for the Israeli daily Ha’artez, where this article first appeared (