RAMALLAH – On Sunday approximately 150 Palestinians from 20 families were driven out of their homes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza strip, by heavily armed police and soldiers who menaced them with clubs.
The difference this time was that it was not the Israeli Defense Forces carrying out evictions and demolitions but Hamas security forces, including policewomen with their faces veiled.
Reporters trying to cover the event were barred by Hamas police.
Many of those expelled had already lost their homes and been forced into the streets when Israel carried out its brutal military assault over the coastal territory, which deliberately targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, during Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.
Some of the homes destroyed on Sunday were temporary shacks built hastily after the Israeli assault. Other homes were concrete structures built prior to Israel’s crippling blockade, imposed on Gaza after Hamas took control in June 2007, which has prevented most reconstruction material from entering the territory.
The Hamas authorities argue that the homes were built on government land and without permission. Residents claimed they had been sold permits by a local landowner.
This is an explanation West Bankers regularly hear from the Israelis before Palestinian homes and buildings in the West Bank are destroyed, although the territory is illegally occupied by Israel whereas Hamas is a democratically elected government and the Gaza Strip is Palestinian land.
Nevertheless, the harshness of the actions under the current conditions provoked anger from Gazans and condemnation from human rights organizations.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza expressed “its grave concern over these demolitions, which constitute a violation of civilians’ rights to adequate housing. These violations may affect an additional 180 houses in Rafah in the future.”
Meanwhile, attempts by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide some summer fun and entertainment for Gaza’s traumatized children suffered a setback when one of its recreational facilities was torched after 30 armed and masked men attacked the facility on Monday.
UNRWA released a statement saying, “The location is one of 35 beach facilities under construction, which will form part of UNRWA’s annual Summer Games program for over 250,000 refugee children in Gaza, due to commence on Jun. 12.”
Before leaving the gunmen left a letter – containing threats against UNRWA officials and its director of operations in Gaza John Ging – and three bullets in the pocket of the security guard who was handcuffed and beaten with rifle butts.
Ging condemned the incident and said that “UNRWA will not be intimidated by such acts and will quickly rebuild the location in good time to host the Summer Games.”
Extremists in Gaza have expressed disapproval at the Western influence of UNRWA as well as some of its activities, including teaching girls swimming, fitness, and dancing.
The Hamas authorities have been battling increasing incidents of Islamic extremism, which have targeted beauty salons, coffee shops, Internet cafes, the YMCA, and a Red Cross convoy.
Groups with links to al-Qaeda have also launched attacks against Hamas’ security forces. A shootout between Jund Ansar Allah and Hamas police last year in Rafah left more than 20 dead.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported on Monday that it is in possession of documents, sent by a group of Yemeni Shi’ite separatists who oppose al-Qaeda, which “point to regular, direct contact between the al-Qaeda organization in that country and supporters in the Gaza Strip.”
“The Shi’ite rebels who passed the latest communication, and several previous ones, to Ha’aretz, are demanding Yemeni government’s recognition of their civil rights. They are keen to distinguish themselves from al-Qaeda,” said the daily.
The Israeli military has for some time warned of growing links between al-Qaeda elements and Gaza extremists. These links have involved the smuggling of weapon caches from Egypt’s Sinai peninsular into Gaza. Some of the caches have been uncovered by Egyptian security forces.
Although the Hamas authorities have cracked down on Islamic extremists, Gazans who tried to hold a protest march against the arson attack on the UNRWA facility were forcibly turned back by Hamas police.
This suppression of civil liberties came as the Hamas authorities simultaneously prevented a human rights workshop to discuss rights and freedom in the Palestinian territories from being held at a Gaza hotel on Monday.
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights lashed out at the decision.
Mustafa Ibrahim, a jurist on the commission, said the hotel management had received a phone call forbidding the workshop.
“The decision to bar the event is an unprecedented interference in the work of human rights organizations. NGOs are not required to obtain a permit or seek the government’s permission to hold workshops,” said Ibrahim.
(Inter Press Service)