How One House Is Spared Destruction

RAFAH - People had hoped to wake up yesterday with news that the tanks and bulldozers had pulled out of the Brazil quarter and that residents of Tel Sultan could finally bury their dead. Instead, Rafah residents were awakened by the roar of tanks rolling closer and closer and the incessant buzz of helicopters. Throughout the day, although with occasional breaks, the air was rent by fire from the tanks and choppers aimed at the Brazil neighborhood and its residents. It was clear that under fire of this type, it would not be possible to hold a single mass funeral.

The route to the cemetery passes through the alleyways of the Brazil quarter. There was no chance that the curfew on Tel Sultan would be lifted.

During the morning, the bulldozers destroyed another house, some say two, in the Brazil quarter, close to the kindergarten named after the U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie (who was killed by an IDF bulldozer in Rafah in 2003). The bulldozers were accompanied by firing tanks. Those present said they seemed to fire non-stop. People rushed out of their homes helter-skelter, carrying a few bundles. The media representatives also prefered not to stay. The shooting was too scary. Everyone remembered how Ruen, aged 3, had been killed by similar shooting two days earlier. Everyone thought the army was in a hurry to demolish another row of houses.

Five hundred meters away, in Shabura, one family was pulling its hair with worry. The father of the family is paralyzed as a result of a work accident. How could his wife carry him if they had to flee?

Suddenly it became clear that an entire family, the Namle family, had remained in their house. They refused to leave. The bulldozer outside had already destroyed the small hut where the grandfather lived. It seemed as if all of Gaza heard, in a live broadcast, how the family refused to leave their home. Yussuf, the father, who is a teacher, called the local radio Freedom Station. "The army is outside, and we are refusing to leave," he said. "Help us." He left the telephone number.

There are two local radio stations, and both have an open line for Rafah residents to call in. Someone said that every car in Gaza has a radio where the voices of Rafah can be heard. Sometimes the radio broadcasts reports that are not true and cause more panic.

An activist for the Mezan human rights group took the details of the Namle family and passed them on to an Israeli lawyer who would try to stop the IDF from detroying the home. The family has two adjacent houses, numbers 51 and 52, one with three stories and the other a single-story home.

The family said on radio that at one stage, Israeli soldiers tried to talk them into leaving. Three women from the family asked the soldiers: "Why do you want to destroy our home? Don't you have small children?"

"We don't have children because you killed them," they said the soldiers responded.

At quarter to five in the evening, after a day of contacts with IDF legal authorities, the Mezan lawyer was informed that the house would not be destroyed.

The following message arrived by fax. "Following a clarification with those in the field, it appears that RIGHT NOW there is no intention to demolish buildings in the Brazil quarter." The fax noted, however, that this could change if there were "an immediate military necessity" to do so - that is, if there were gunmen hiding there or if fire were opened from there at the soldiers. In that case, it stated, the residents would be warned in advance and told to vacate the structures.