Gas Grenade Fired by Israeli Border Police Causes House Fire in Lower Galilee

Rafaya said that only two months ago he had completed renovations in his house 'and now its all soot and smoke and smells of gas in all the rooms'

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Muhammad Rafaya in his house yesterday.
Muhammad Rafaya in his house yesterday.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A tear gas grenade fired by Border Policemen caused a fire Sunday in a house in Kafr Salim in the lower Galilee. Palestinians without work permits have been entering Israel via a hole in the border fence near the house.

Family members say the grenade was fired at these workers prevent them from entering Israel. The fire caused two women to sustain injuries and they were subsequently sent to a hospital. The police have opened an investigation into the incident.

Mohammed Rafaya, the owner of the house, said that his wife was woken up early Sunday morning. “Apparently they had thrown grenades,” he described, “she said her eyes were burning.” He said he tried to reach the kitchen in order to get something that would soothe her eyes, but couldn’t leave his bedroom. “I couldn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t see a few feet ahead of me,” he said. He returned to his bedroom, and after a few minutes some people arrived, telling him the house was on fire. Rafaya and his neighbors called emergency medical services and firefighters, but managed to extinguish the fire in the living room before the firefighters arrived.

A fire investigator who arrived on the scene determined that the fire was started by the grenade. Rafaya said that only two months ago he had completed renovations in his house "and now it’s all soot and smoke and smells of gas in all the rooms.” He said that grenades also landed on balconies in his neighbors’ houses, but caused no damage there. “I didn’t get angry because I’m used to it,” he said. “We complained a few times, but they told us that that’s the way it is on the [border]."

Village residents said that while this was an unusual occurrence, it was an extreme example of what they have experienced for a year and a half. According to these residents, security forces have been using crowd dispersal means to prevent Palestinians from illegally entering Israel, and residents are feeling the physical effects.

For example, this week Sirhan Sabihat, a village resident who is in charge of the local clinic wrote to the public complaints’ unit of the Border Police. “Following our conversation, every morning, workers from the territories enter through openings on the border, between Salim and Rumana [a nearby village] close to the military court at Ma’aleh Iron-Salim. During the early morning hours, the IDF uses tear gas and sound grenades to drive them away. This has been going on for some time.” He added that he had tried talking to the office politely, “but things are getting out of hand…we are now being hurt. Women, children and sick people are being affected. Every day people come to the clinic with breathing difficulties and burning eyes, problems associated with tear gas.”

Rafaya’s brother recounted that about six months ago, Israeli security forces aimed a weapon at him near his house and demanded to see his ID card. “I walked down to them, told them that I was from Israel and that this was my house," he said.

The acting mayor for the area, Tawfik Rafa’i of the Ma’aleh Iron local council, said that the breach in the border fence has been there for a considerable period of time and that the army and police are aware of it.

“Every day, thousands of workers enter and it bothers us a great deal. They could close it up in seconds. On the one hand, they are leaving the breach in the fence and on the other hand, they’re throwing gas grenades. It’s not simply a disturbance. The children get up every morning crying due to the noise and smoke that it causes,” he said.

When asked for a response to this article, the police said that Border Police have spotted about 200 people coming across the border and have used crowd dispersal means to stop mass crossings into the country and to repel them.

They further stated that, "We should note that these methods have been deployed toward open spaces and not in the direction of the houses, but nevertheless, the incident described will be looked into. The security forces will continue to act to prevent the infiltration of those illegally in the country” and “to protect the well-being of the public and the security of the country.”

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