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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

11 January 2002
Subject: Destroying homes is a war crime


Dozens of families were forced out of their homes in mid-winter – the homes then razed before their eyes – to serve someone’s expansionist politics. This is happening in several locations in the Palestinian territories. Such deliberate destruction is criminal by any standards, and certainly a war crime. Read Gush Shalom’s report below, to which I have appended “What You Can Do.” We must not be silent, especially those of us who care deeply about the welfare of both Israel and Palestine.

Gila Svirsky

Two women sit weeping in the field of rubble where their homes used to be

––Original Message––

From: Gush Shalom
Sent: Friday, January 11, 2002 3:09 AM

GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 -

“Destroying the houses of innocent civilians is a war crime,” Shulamit Aloni was quoted to have said today during her visit to Arafat in his besieged Ramalla residence. Confronted with that statement on the Israeli Channel-Two five o’clock news Aloni explained: “I have said it also yesterday in Tzavta: the time has come to prepare charge sheets.”

Last night we held in Tel-Aviv’s Tzavta Hall a well-attended panel discussion on the war crimes being perpetrated in the Occupied Territories. On the morning of the same day, our appeal on a related issue was heard by the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Just as we were about to compose a report on these events we got the information about the destruction of dozens of Palestinian homes at Rafah by Israeli troops – leaving hundreds of people, exposed to a cold and rainy winter night, powerless against the bulldozers. The number of destroyed homes varies in different reports from 45 in some, to 73 in others. In any case, the earlier terse communique by the IDF spokesman, speaking of “a number of structures demolished out of tactical considerations” and published as fact by the Israeli media, was grossly and deliberately misleading.

The destruction was clearly intended as retaliation for the guerrilla raid in which four Israeli soldiers were killed a day earlier at the Gaza Strip border; a retaliation directed entirely against a civilian population which had nothing to do with the attack, and as such a violation of International Law, specifically of the Fourth Geneva Convention – and as such a war crime.

This act would be horrific enough in itself. It is all the more so, being but part of of a long-term policy implemented at the long-suffering town of Rafah, which is divided in three: one part under the self-governing Palestinian Authority, another part under Egyptian rule, and bisecting them in between, a long and narrow Israeli-held miltary zone, designed to prevent contact between these two sundred parts and – in general – prevent Palestinians from having free acess to the outside world. This unnatural situation led to an endless series of confrontations and incidents over the past year and half. In response, the Israeli Army formulated a simple and brutal strategy: to extend and widen the “buffer zone” under its control by destroying Palestinian dwellings and creating a “sterile zone” in their place.

The policy was stated quite openly by reserve General Yom-Tov Samia, former commander of IDF’s Southern Command, in a live interview to Israeli radio on June 9, 2001:

THE IDF MUST RAZE ALL THE HOUSES within a strip of 300-400 metres in width.... No matter what the future (final) agreement would be, this will be our border with Egypt (!)... Arafat must be punished; after each incident, another two or three rows of houses must be razed...
This is precisely what the army has been doing, steadily and systematically, ever since. As several of the speakers at our panel discussion remarked, war crime (as, in fact, ordinary crime) is aggravated by being part of a deliberate and systematic policy.

A few hours before the latest wave of destruction was unleashed at Rafah, Dr. Eyal Gross of the Tel-Aviv University Faculty of Law advanced at the Tzavta Hall the opinion that ordering a soldier to drive a bulldozer to destroy a civilian dwelling constitutes a manifestly illegal order: “Under both International Law and the Israeli Military Code, a soldier has not only the right but also the duty to refuse such an order. Should he be court-martialed for that refusal, he can in all consicience claim to be law-abiding, while it was his commanding officer who was guilty of law-breaking.”

Shulamit Aloni – former Education Minister, and grand old lady of the Israeli peace and human rights movement – was even more forthright: “The time has come for us to prepare the charge sheets of Israel’s war criminals, since nobody else does it.” This she said from the podium at Tzavta yesterday, and repeated it at a TV interview today.

So as not to make this message too long, a fuller description of the Tzavta meeting will be delayed for tomorrow.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO (Gila’s appendix):

Fax or call any of the following with a brief message – Tell Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes!

Please note: Printing out and faxing your letter (or personally making a phone call), whenever possible, is more effective pressure than e-mail.

President George W. Bush
Phone: (202) 456-1414
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Secretary of State Colin Powell
Phone: (202) 647-4000 (202-647-5150) Bureau of Near East Affairs
Fax: (202) 261-8577

Ms. Mary Robinson
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr. Kofi Annan
Secretary General of the UN
Phone: (212) 963-5012
Fax: (212) 963-4879

Mr.Terje Rod Larsen
Representative of the UN in Palestine
Tel: + 972 8 282 2914
Fax: + 972 8 282 0966


Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres
Fax: +972-2-5303704

Israeli Defense Minister, Benyamin Ben Eliezer
Fax: +972-3-6916940, 6976990

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

Letters from Jerusalem, 2001
Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
Letters from Jerusalem, 2003
New & recent letters from Jerusalem (2004)
Resources and Links

© 2002 Gila Svirsky, Gush Shalom.

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