Rafah: The Battle of Tel Zorab

On April 3, in Rafah, 11 International Solidarity Movement activists, from England, Scotland, the US
and Italy, engaged in a major confrontation with the Occupying Israeli Army operating in the south end of the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

2003.04.08

Yesterday in Rafah 11 International Solidarity Movement activists, from England, Scotland, the US
and Italy, engaged in a major confrontation with the Occupying
Israeli Army operating in the south end of the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

At 5 pm the activists were having a meeting at the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) Rafah
headquarters when they received word that armoured bulldozers were
demolishing Palestinian homes in the Tel Zorab area. Immediately,
scrambled to gather their equipment (fluorescent clothing, megaphones and banners) before piling into a
large taxi.

When they arrived at Tel Zorab they found a large group of
Palestinians who were peering around the corners of buildings to
watch the bulldozers at work and carefully avoiding exposing
themselves to fire from the tank that accompanied the bulldozers or
the military towers from which snipers dominate Rafah’s border
areas. Unfurling their banners, the group approached the area of the
where the bulldozers were operating to the cheers of the Palestinians.

Leaving their Palestinian supporters behind, the activists found two Israeli
bulldozers working together to tear down a Palestinian home. The
bulldozers were accompanied by a tank, which, upon seeing the
activists, immediately began firing its machine gun into the air and
at the rubble of a building that had already been destroyed.

Leaving a couple of activists behind to film and monitor the
situation, the remainder advanced cautiously as the tank continued to
fire into the air and at nearby buildings so that on a few occasions
the activists were showered with shrapnel. Undaunted, the activists
continued their advance upon the war machines until they came close
enough for the tank’s crew to hurl sound grenades at them.

At this point the activists called the ISM Media Office who began to
alert their consulates of their situation. During the course of the
confrontation the British Consulate was called twice and responded by
alerting the Israelis of that there were British nationals in the
area and later, when the situation escalated, by demanding that their
status as unarmed peace activists be respected. The Italian
Consulate was closed and the Media Office was unable to contact any
duty officers.

The US Consular Agent in Haifa said that if they were being shot at by Israelis, then it
was the Israelis with whom they had an issue and that it was them who should be phoned.
He would do nothing to help them and would not even inform the Israeli
military of their presence in this area. The reason he gave for his
refusal was that the activists had forfeited their rights as US
citizens to consular protection by ignoring US State Department
travel advice against going to the Occupied Territories.

A battle of nerves then took place as the bulldozer drove very close
to the activists who stood their ground until he withdrew. This
happened several times until the driver gave up and pulled back so
that the tank could fire its machine gun over their heads before one
of its crew opened a hatch and threw a tear gas canister.
Unfortunately (for the tank crew) he had misjudged the wind direction
so that the gas blew back into their tank.

Meanwhile, the bulldozer had approached the house it was trying to
destroy from another direction but was blocked by four other
activists who stood in its path, with their backs towards the
partially destroyed house.

Shortly thereafter an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) arrived
on the scene and the activists positioned themselves so that they
could easily withdraw towards the Palestinian areas. (Israeli
soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip are generally terrified of the
Palestinian resistance fighters and almost never venture out of there
armoured vehicles. There are many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who
have lived all their lives under occupation and with tanks roaming
their streets but have never seen an Israeli soldier.)

After the tank had created a smokescreen several soldiers in full
combat gear rushed out of the APC and towards the activists who
quickly withdrew so that the soldiers ran back into the APC without
capturing any of them.

At this point an enormous explosion occurred as a rocket was fired
from the Zorab tower into an abandoned Palestinian home.

The APC then began firing its machine gun at the feet of the
activists as another bulldozer tried to resume its work before being
blocked by a group of activists. Once again the bulldozer driver
approached within inches of the activists before stopping. The
bulldozer driver then began blowing his horn in a musical manner and
then wrote down his phone number and held it to the windscreen while
pointing at one of the female activists.

Shortly thereafter, the soldiers in the APC rushed out to arrest the
activists but failed again as the activists withdrew towards the
Palestinians. When the soldiers withdrew to the APC the activists
resumed their positions.

At one point a member of the tank’s crew climbed out of the top of the
tank and tried to tackle one of the Italian activists but only
succeeded in partially pulling off his trousers before he escaped.
As the soldier fled back into tank, its machine gun fired into the
windows of some Palestinian houses to cover him. (At no point were
there any members of the Palestinian resistance in the area.)

At about 7 pm it began to get dark and the armoured vehicles withdrew.
They were “covered” in their retreat by another rocket
fired from Zorab tower which hit a nearby house and showered the
activists with rocks.

The activists then left the area to by welcomed by the Palestinian
spectators who cheered them and shook their hands.

This was the first action the Rafah ISM team has undertaken to
prevent home demolitions since the murder of their comrade Rachel
Corrie in a similar incident three weeks before (http://www.palsolidarity.org/rachelmain.htm).

For further information contact:

Joe: +972 67 628 507

or
Tom: +972 52 694 380

Author: Michael

News Service: The International Solidarity Movement

URL: http://www.palsolidarity.org/writings/7Apr03_GazaMichael.htm