Palestinian Territories - Beit Hanoun: Attacks against civilians and their property

The long series of Israeli military incursions into the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza strip continues and intensifies. The latest has given rise to violent offensives against civilians and their property. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), present in Gaza since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, deplores the destruction and is alarmed at the medical, psychological and material consequences on local families affected by this disaster.

Gaza/Paris, 23 May 2003 - Since May 14, the Israeli army has destroyed at least 10 homes and over a hundred hectares (300 acres) of agricultural land, leaving hundreds of people homeless and/or without livelihoods. In addition, the Israeli army is occupying Beit Hanoun's industrial zone and constructing a new military access road between that zone and the Green Line.

On May 20 and 21, a team from MSF investigated the situation in the town and the immediate surroundings.

Large swaths of orchards had been razed, the bridge on the main road had been destroyed once again and several streets had been torn up. Five homes in the neighborhood of Hai Zeitoun were destroyed, as were several other houses along the Salah a-Din road. The wall of a mosque was also 'punctured' by a bulldozer.

In some cases, the families inside the razed homes were given no warning and had to jump out of the windows in order to save themselves. "We had only a minute to leave," declared one man. The families were unable to take anything with them and are now homeless and left without any of their belongings. Others were trapped in their own homes and denied access to water, before being thrown out several days later.

Twenty people were trapped in the industrial zone, while MSF and other humanitarian organizations were denied access by the Israeli army.

Soldiers have occupied several homes during this incursion, some for several hours, others for days. Fifty soldiers occupied one home for more than two days. When the father opened the door in the early hours of the morning, a soldier struck him on the back of his head with the butt of a rifle. The 12 family members were placed in one room and their money was stolen., but the father managed to convince the soldier not to kill his cows and sheep. One mother described how a bulldozer not only razed her farm but also buried her cow, sheep and chickens alive.

The children and adults that MSF were able to visit show signs of shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. Several families will need psychological as well as material assistance.

Since Thursday, the Israeli army has intensified its presence in this corner of the Gaza strip. MSF will return to Beit Hanoun on Sunday.