What’s Really Happening In Rafah

Special Newsletter – The Situation in Rafah



a.. The Situation in Rafah

b.. The Humanitarian Situation in Rafiah

c.. The Demolition of Palestinian Structures Used for Terrorism – Legal Background

d.. Weapon Smuggling Tunnels in Rafah – Background Material

e.. IDF Website

f.. Analysis / A strike at the smugglers


The Situation in Rafah

General Background

The Oslo Accords signed in 1994–1995 granted the Palestinian Authority control over most of the Gaza Strip. The agreements specify that the IDF will continue to control a narrow strip between the area under Palestinian control and the border with Egypt, called the “Philadelphi Route.” On both sides of the route are the towns of Palestinian Rafah and Egyptian Rafah.

During the ensuing years, the area has been used for smuggling, mainly through tunnels dug under the border. Rafah rapidly became the main pipeline for transporting weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip, where they are used for carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.

Since January 2003 large amounts of diverse weaponry have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip, among them:

· Dozens of RPG rockets and launchers

· Hundreds of kilograms of explosives

· Hundreds of rifles (mainly AK-47 Kalashnikovs)

· Tens of thousands of bullets and other ammunition

Efforts are made to smuggle in more advanced kinds of weapons.

Since September 2000, the IDF has uncovered and demolished approximately 90 tunnels. From the beginning of 2004 alone, the IDF has uncovered and demolished 11 tunnels as well as a member of houses and buildings from where the tunnels emerged.

Weapon Smuggling Tunnels in Rafah

A large-scale smuggling industry has developed in Rafah. The area is used for smuggling weapons, drugs, goods and lately, human beings. The smugglers are adapt at how to avoid detection of the tunnels, thus they build them in residential areas and use small children to construct the tunnels and smuggle the weapons.

The smuggling business began in Rafah during the 1980’s, due to the city’s economic condition and geographic location.

The economic element comprises an important factor in channeling local residents and families into the weapons and ammunition smuggling industry. This industry comprises a primary source of income for entire families, and is the main source of income in the area.

Due to the lucrative economic aspects of this industry, a power struggle has been raging between different clans and tribes over control of the smuggling.

However, it should be noted that there are those Palestinians who reject the digging of the tunnels both from houses they own or from neighboring houses.

Parallel to the smuggling industry in the area, the extremist Islamic infrastructure also developed, which increased the involvement of the residents in terrorist and smuggling activity.

The Role of the Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority has aided in the above-mentioned terrorist activity since the beginning of the current armed conflict.

The Palestinian Authority itself, through the “Re-armament Network,” has been active in smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip via tunnels.

Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has encouraged residents to conceal tunnels in their residences, which results in the demolition of their houses.

Today, the demolition of a house in which a tunnel has been uncovered, brings with it an ample windfall, as well as the construction of a new house – built of concrete in the neighborhood of Tel-Sultan by the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, residents have even begun to construct fictitious tunnels, and spread rumors about tunnels located under their houses in order to receive compensation from the Palestinian Authority after their home is demolished. In this manner, the Palestinian Authority encourages the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.

During the entire cease-fire period, the Palestinian Authority failed to deal with the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, as it should have. This smuggling, during the cease-fire, served to arm the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and strengthen the terrorist infrastructure in the area.

With regard to the media, the lessons of Jenin (in the spring of 2002) should not be forgotten. At that time, most media reports were based on false information that had little to do with the facts on the ground. Initial coverage from Rafah suggests that this might again be the case.


The Humanitarian Situation in Rafiah

Excerpt from Jerusalem Post


…… according to IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ruth Yaron, all the international organizations were being allowed free passage into all IDF controlled areas. She said the IDF has opened a humanitarian hotline to which anyone can forward their problems and receive any help they need, including transportation for doctors.

“This operation is targeted against terrorists alone and definitely not against humanitarian elements,” she said. “Before the operation began, we disseminated information to the mayor and inside the neighborhoods that included what services would be provided.”

“Ambulances have been operating and we have been providing whatever medical assistance is necessary,” Yaron stressed.

“The distress the PA is attempting to portray regarding Rafah’s inhabitants is demagoguery,” said Colonel Yoav Mordechai, head of the Gaza District Coordinating Office (DCO).

Mordechai told the Jerusalem Post that since the beginning of the operation in Rafah, Israel has permitted two truckloads containing tents, medication and basic food staples to be taken into the town and distributed among the local population. In addition, five ambulances containing wounded Palestinians have been allowed to leave the area for hospitals elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

“Prior to launching the operation, we constructed a special road in order to endure that humanitarian assistance will reach the population. It was necessary to do this because the other roads contained bombs planted by Palestinians operating in the area.”

Mordechai said that in order to address the humanitarian issues in the town while combat continues, commanders and officers in the DCO are accompanying troops in order to deal with any problems that may be incurred by the local population.

“We are in close contact with Palestinian officials and international aid organizations, and are doing our best to ensure that locals receive the necessary assistance.”

Mordechai noted that in addition, Israel has permitted trucks containing 1500 oxygen canisters to be taken out of the strip and into Israel, where they are being refilled. He noted that a power shortage in the area where troops are deployed, which was caused by a bomb explosion, is currently being dealt with by local crews.


The Demolition of Palestinian Structures Used for Terrorism – Legal Background

For nearly four years, Israelis have been the victims of a relentless and ongoing campaign by Palestinian terrorists to spread death and destruction, condemning our region to ongoing turmoil, killing more than 900 Israelis and injuring more than 6000.

In light of this unprecedented lethal threat, Israeli security forces have sought to find new effective and lawful counter-measures that would minimize the occurrence of such terrorist attacks in general, and suicide terrorism in particular, and to discourage potential suicide bombers.

Palestinian terrorists employ the most abhorrent and inhuman methods, including suicide terrorism in order to target Israeli civilians and soldiers, contrary to any notion of morality, and in grave breach of the international laws of armed conflict. Palestinian terrorists operate from within densely populated areas, abusing the protection granted by international law to the civilian population.

Faced with the failure of the Palestinian leadership to comply with its obligations to fight terrorism, stop incitement and prevent the smuggling of weapons, Israel has been compelled to combat the threat to the lives of Israelis, exercising its right to self defense while upholding its obligations under international law. One such security measure is the demolition of structures that pose a real security risk to Israeli forces.

Terrorists often operate from within homes and civilian structures. When terrorists fire from within these buildings or activate roadside charges from orchards and fields, military necessity dictates the demolition of these locations. Under International Law, these locations are considered legitimate targets. Therefore, in the midst of combat, when dictated by operational necessity, Israeli security forces may lawfully destroy structures used by terrorists.

A further instance necessitating the demolition of buildings is the use made by terrorist groups of civilian buildings in order to conceal openings of tunnels used to smuggle arms, explosives and terrorists from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Similarly, buildings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are used for the manufacturing and

concealment of rockets, mortars, weapons and explosive devices to be used against Israel. The demolition of these structures is often the only way to combat this threat.

Another means employed by Israel against terrorists is the demolition of homes of those who have carried out suicide attacks or other grave attacks, or those who are responsible for sending suicide bombers on their deadly missions. Israel has few available and effective means in its war against terrorism. This measure is employed

to provide effective deterrence of the perpetrators and their dispatchers, not as a punitive measure. This practice has been reviewed and upheld by the High Court of Justice.

Israel’s security forces adhere to the rules of International Humanitarian Law and are subject to the scrutiny of Israel’s High Court of Justice in hundreds of petitions made annually by Palestinians and human rights organizations.

Israeli measures are not a form of “collective punishment” as some have claimed, as if the intention were to cause deliberate hardship to the population at large. While the security measures taken in self-defense and necessitated by terrorist threats do unfortunately cause hardships to sectors of the Palestinian population, this is

categorically not their intent. Wherever possible, even in the midst of military operations, Israel’s security forces go to great lengths to minimize the effects of security measures on the civilian population not involved in terrorism.

In this context, Israel adopts measures in order to ensure that only terrorists and the structures they use are targeted. Furthermore, though permissible under the laws of armed conflict, Israel refrains whenever possible from attacking terrorist targets from the air or with artillery, in order to minimize collateral damage, a policy which

entails risking the lives of Israeli soldiers. The death of 13 soldiers in ground operations in the Gaza Strip in early May 2004 is an example of the heavy price Israel pays for its commitment to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.

While there is no question that the Palestinian population is suffering from the ongoing conflict, that suffering is a direct result of Palestinian terrorism aimed at innocent Israelis, and the need for Israel to protect its citizens from these abhorrent attacks.

In the reality of the present conflict, Israel is facing a difficult war against terrorism. It is a war that has been forced upon it. It is a war in which the terrorists apply no rules or mercy, a war that takes a toll of Israeli lives on an almost daily basis. In this reality, Israel must take the necessary measures to protect the lives and security of its citizens and it is doing so while making earnest efforts to uphold international law and the rights of Palestinians not involved in terrorism.


Weapon Smuggling Tunnels in Rafah – Background Material



IDF Website



Analysis / A strike at the smugglers By Ze’ev Schiff www.haaretz.com

The purpose of the Israel Defense Forces operation in Rafah is to isolate the southern Palestinian city from the rest of Gaza to prevent the transfer of weapons that the Palestinians managed to smuggle in lately via the Philadelphi route, and to arrest contractors and experts builing the tunnels from Sinai into Rafah.

No deadline has been set for ending the operation but the army clearly does not plan to remain there for long.

While the operations along the Philadelphi route are meant to broaden the corridor and demolish houses used by Palestinians as cover when they shoot near the road, the current operation’s purpose is very different. The goal is not to demolish buildings or broaden roads. The goal is to create another barricade or checkpoint, albeit temporary, halting weapons smuggled through the tunnels.

The instructions to the forces are to be careful in any military actions that could cause humanitarian difficulties. But it is obvious that despite that order, the Palestinian population will suffer because of IDF efforts to prevent large-scale weapons smuggling.

The operation will not be limited to creating a defensive belt around the city because a key purpose is to capture contractors and tunneling experts. Several dozen specific people are on the IDF’s wanted list. The contractors, tunneling experts and smugglers all earn handsome livelihoods from the tunnels and selling the weapons they manage to get through.

The latest deliveries include RPGs, Kalashnikovs and ammunition, but most significantly, there has been a large quantity of factory-grade explosives brought into Gaza through the tunnels.

Military operations of such dimensions require integrating relatively large numbers of forces, much more than are required for a brigade incursion, which will have an impact on determining how long the army keeps the troops going in the operation.


David Golding

Press Officer


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