When the Israel Defense Forces tanks and bulldozers left the heart of the Brazil and Tel Sultan neighborhoods of Rafah on Friday, May 21, the residents discovered pink flyers among the ruins of their houses with a message from the "defense force." It read: "A call to the residents of the city of Rafah. The terrorists continue to carry out their operations from within your homes, for their personal gain, as they hide like rats in their holes. The defense force will continue to act without mercy against every terrorist, like Mohammed a-Sheikh Khalil, against every person who assists them or offers them shelter, and against all who smuggle arms, like, for example Yihya Jama, Ibrahim al-Masri, Hisham Shaar and Hussein Abu Zayed. Recently, some residents showed courage and responsibility when they stopped the terrorist actions and expelled those who had caused their homes to be damaged. The initiative is yours! Take part in the task of preventing the terrorists from continuing to bring disasters upon you, and you will benefit. The commander of the defense forces."
People passed the flyers from hand to hand, with the tanks and the bulldozers still in action. Tel Sultan was still surrounded by forces; the bulldozers destroyed greenhouses and an onion field. The tanks, 200 meters from the Brazil neighborhood, continued to fire a round at people from time to time.
No one was surprised at the names they found in the flyer. People know it's not a difficult task for Israeli intelligence organizations to name smugglers. People also knew what the writer meant by the sentence "some residents showed courage and responsibility when they stopped terrorist actions." In fact, the widespread actions of the IDF in destroying houses in Rafah and connecting them to the task of stopping the building of the tunnels caused a good deal of internal friction in the border neighborhoods. For example, the residents of the Yibneh neighborhood set the house of Hussein Abu Zayed on fire. His house the IDF had not destroyed. Abu Zayed himself was banished from the city.
At the beginning of May, angry people also set fire to the Al-Babli family's house in Brazil; they knew there was a tunnel under the house. The family didn't live there anymore. People assumed that they had sold their house to a tunnel operator. But before the fire, they say in Rafah, the Palestinian Authority had already blocked the tunnel. In Rafah they also say that one tunnel the IDF claimed to have uncovered in Operation Rainbow was under the Al-Babli house. (The IDF said officially that for security reasons, the exact location of the tunnel and the names of the families owning the houses under which they were found would not be released).
This tunnel, then, which had been known about for some time, had stopped operating on the basis of information provided by neighbors to the PA when Mohammed Dahlan ordered it closed (along with other tunnels) when he was serving as a kind of defense minister in the cabinet of Mahmoud Abu Mazen. Among the other tunnels was that under the house of the Abu Ne'emeh family in the Salam neighborhood, and that of Abu Libdeh in Yibneh. PA security forces also came to the Arja family house in Yibneh. They had planned to block the tunnel with cement, but then they discovered it had already been stopped up with sand. In Rafah, people understand the feelings of neighbors who act against the tunnel operators. They were not punished, they were not shunned. When two sons of a known tunnel operator in Rafah were killed during the digging of a new tunnel (a water pipe burst and flooded the tunnel), some suggested they be declared martyrs. Social activists identified with Fatah objected. They are not martyrs, declared a flyer; they were working for personal financial gain.
Yihya Jamal, mentioned in the flyer, is under arrest. The PA Preventive Security forces apprehended him in the street. A member of the Al-Babli family is also in custody. So is Abu Libdeh. But the flyer that the "defense forces" left behind was proud not only of the open information in its possession. It also tried, people interpreted, to tie together everyone the locals call fighters (terrorists, according to the flyer) with arms merchants and smugglers. According to that interpretation, the flyer is also trying to encourage people to serve as intelligence agents for the Israeli army. Here, they say in Rafah, the writers of the flyer showed that they are out of touch with the local reality.
Mohammed a-Sheikh Khalil, mentioned in the flyer, was a Fatah operative as far back as the first intifada. Eventually, he became more "orthodox" and in the present intifada he left the Fatah's Popular Opposition Committees and joined the Islamic Jihad. His associates say that he feels freer under the umbrella of this small organization. A bomb he was preparing exploded in his hands and one of them was blown off. But he continues to fight, they say in Rafah, where he is a symbol of an individual who sacrifices himself for the good of the many, who takes risks and acts against the army.
The expression "a rat hiding in his hole" said one Brazil resident whose house was destroyed, "applies to the soldiers who hide in their tanks and bulldozers, and who don't dare come down from them. It does not suit our fighters."
Fathi Abu Ghali was a member of the Opposition Committees. In April 2004, IDF forces destroyed his family's home in the Salam neighborhood. Abu Ghali was digging a shaft to connect to the tunnel, the original shaft of which had been blocked by the PA. The neighbors' homes were also destroyed. In their anger, members of the neighboring Lafi family murdered him. Suspects were arrested, and their families fled town. "This is unacceptable among us," people in the neighborhood said at the height of the IDF attack two weeks ago. "A murder of one of our fighters is an unforgivable crime."
Is it true, as the flyer says, that it is worth their while for people to act against the terrorists and the tunnel operators? On the morning of April 14, two elderly people from the Shaar and Barkat families, came out of their house in the Salam neighborhood carrying a white flag, and moved carefully toward an armored vehicle that regularly patroled the fringe of the neighborhood. They returned openly toward evening. They said they had informed the army of the location of a tunnel in their neighborhood, hoping that it would be destroyed and the houses around it would be spared. Two days later, an IDF armored force crawled toward the neighborhood. The tunnel was blocked off, but the force also destroyed six neighboring houses
"This was proof to us that the goal of exposing tunnels is only an excuse. The real goal is to destroy as many houses as possible and to create social friction and internal conflict, said Y., a mathematics teacher at an UN Relief and Works Agency school.
Y. is one of the Fatah activists who wrote flyers and organized meetings against the tunnel operators and smugglers. "But are there tunnels under the greenhouses of Tel Sultan? Are there tunnels east of Rafah where the army [in Operation Rainbow] destroyed a few hundred dunams of cultivated land? The writers of this flyer are ridiculous if they believe that someone will listen to them. And the politicians that send the army to carry out this destruction - I don't understand them at all. The finest mathematicians I studied were Jewish. The best books on philosophy and sociology that I read were written by Jews. But who are the Jews who think that they will gain something for their country from this destruction?"
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