Israel Invades Rafah

May 23, 2004

On May 18, Israel launched a major military offensive, "Operation Rainbow," against the Palestinian city of Rafah in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt. With the stated purpose of "destroying Palestinian homes" in order to "widen an Israeli patrol road," the Israeli military command has been carrying out a scorched-earth policy in Rafah.

Israeli troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, invaded the densely populated city and refugee camp, leaving a path of ripped-up roads and demolished buildings in their wake. At least 50 Palestinians have been killed and scores more wounded since the offensive began. Thousands of Palestinians have been driven from their homes. Thousands more have been arrested, and many human-rights organizations have stated that water, blood and medical supplies are running low in the city, which has been sealed off by Israeli soldiers since early May.

Massacre of Protestors

On May 19, Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships opened fire on a crowd of Palestinians peacefully protesting the invasion, killing nearly 20, including many children. Eyewitnesses stated that helicopter missiles and tank shells were fired directly into the crowd, sending people fleeing in panic, with many dragging bloodied friends and children with them.

On May 20, the United Nations Security Council voted 14-0 criticizing the Israeli attack on civilians while also condemning Israel's policy of destroying Palestinian homes in violation of international humanitarian laws. Amnesty International, labeled the massacre in Rafah a "war crime."

Despite the U.N. vote and outrage from the international community, however, Israeli leaders declared "the offensive is not over," while U.S. President Bush not only refused to condemn the attack but insisted that Israel "has the right to defend itself."

Eyewitness reports from Rafah continue to expose the destruction and carnage resulting from the invasion.

According to Yacoub Othman, 55, who lives in the Brazil neighborhood and was hit by random fire in the leg as he walked downstairs in his home... "I couldn't even open the window and call on my neighbor to call for an ambulance because the [Israeli] snipers were right in front of us and the bulldozer was working in the street in front of us."

One witness described a "sea of blood with body parts flying all over" during the May 19 attack on demonstrators. "It was horrifying," said Mahmoud Abu Hashem, another eyewitness. "There was one person with his intestines coming out. Another had blood covering his face and you couldn't even make out his features."

On May 19, over 5,000 Palestinians rallied near Gaza City, condemning the invasion in the south. Protests against the offensive also took place in numerous Palestinian cities throughout the West Bank. Also, thousands of Israeli peace activists protested the army's Rafah operation at a Gaza crossing point and in Tel Aviv.

Internationally, emergency protests against the invasion have also taken place in many cities throughout Europe and in the United States.