October 18, 2004

V. THE RAFAH BUFFER ZONE SINCE 2000

House demolitions have been routine in Rafah since the spring of 2001, punctuated by three major waves of destruction in January 2002, October 2003, and May 2004.The overwhelming majority of these demolitions have taken place near the border, forming a de facto "buffer zone" that is now effectively a "no-go" area for Palestinians and foreigners.According to interviews with foreign diplomats and journalists and observations by Human Rights Watch researchers during visits to the area since 2001, those entering or approaching the buffer zone, including humanitarian workers, are likely to receive warning fire.Even visiting foreign dignitaries have come under unprovoked fire: In June 2004, observers from the U.K. charity Christian Aid, as well as visiting British Parliamentarians using a U.N.-flagged vehicle, were shot at by the IDF in two separate incidents in daylight away from any combat activity.[145]

The Expanding Buffer Zone

Satellite images since 2000 of Rafah reduced to a substandard quality of two-meter resolution[146] show a pattern of destruction along the length of the border that has resulted in the creation and widening of a buffer zone empty of Palestinians, homes, and other structures, now extending two to three hundred meters from the border.

Satellite imagery taken in 2000 before the armed uprising shows a patrol corridor twenty to forty meters wide used by the IDF along the border.The corridor was bounded on one side by the Gaza/Egypt border and on the other by a concrete wall, 2.5 to 3 meters high, topped with barbed wire.The IDF conducted regular patrols using armored vehicles inside the corridor and maintained fortifications on the border.

By late 2002, after the destruction of several hundred houses in Rafah, the IDF began building an eight meter high metal wall along the border.The wall also extends two meters underground, not far enough to block most tunnels.This wall, now 1.6 kilometers long,

[145] See, inter alia, "Israeli soldiers shoot at Christian Aid observers," Christian Aid press release, June 25, 2004 and Inigo Gilmore, "Israeli soldiers open fire on visiting British MPs," Daily Telegraph, June 20, 2004.

[146] Commercial satellite imagery of Israel/OPT is subject to special restrictions under U.S. law.While U.S. companies routinely provide satellite imagery of other countries at one-meter resolution or higher levels of quality, Israel/OPT imagery is released only at inferior two-meter resolution, in accordance with the Kyl-Bingaman amendment to the 1997 U.S. Defense Authorization Act.