Rafah, the story nobody wants to tell

February 19, 2015 11:59

In a bid to snuff out terrorism, more than 2,200 families on the Gaza Strip border are being forcibly evicted, with hundreds of homes bulldozed and bombed to ensure the creation of an ever-increasing "buffer-zone".

Warning that the action flouted "international and national law", Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, talked of "shocking scenes", as the human rights organisation accused authorities of "completely ignoring key safeguards required under international law including consultation with residents, adequate prior notice, sufficient compensation for losses and granting alternative housing to those who cannot provide for themselves".

Many Britons will be unaware of these events. Their ignorance is, however, forgivable, as the destruction of Rafah has received scant attention in the British press. The reason may have something to do with the fact that the perpetrator is not Israel, but Egypt.

The establishment of a 500m buffer-zone in the area adjoining the Gaza border, part of the Egyptian government's crackdown on jihadi activity in North Sinai, began in October shortly after terrorists brutally murdered more than 30 soldiers.

In January, plans were announced to extend it further. Shortly afterwards, another 27 soldiers were killed in targeted attacks on military facilities in North Sinai and Suez by a group which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Human rights groups have remained strangely silent

But it is the civilian population of Rafah, a city which straddles Sinai and the Gaza Strip, that has paid the price. Telling their story is not easy, thanks to Egypt's media restrictions, but unlike some foreign media outlets - Israeli papers this week reported on Egyptian forces' discovery of a 2.5 km smuggling tunnel built by Hamas - many of Britain's broadsheets have barely tried.

While the Times headlined a late-October story, "Thousand made homeless as buffer zone is built in Gaza", it devoted just 112 words to the evictions. That was rather better than the Independent, which has provided its readers with scant details of the Egyptian authorities' actions. "The Egyptian government is considering evicting people living in small northern Sinai villages that are considered the 'most dangerous' militant bastions and declaring certain areas to be closed military zones," it reported in October as more than 1,000 families were being thrown out of their homes. At the beginning of January, a news item stated that the Egypt was extending the buffer-zone, but provided no details of the more than 800 homes that had already been destroyed by that point. And although the Guardian has cursorily referenced Egypt's actions in news stories, an early November piece on the mass evictions skirted the human tragedy. Instead, its headline coldly declared the mass evictions "a risky strategy" - a marginally more empathic description than the BBC's use of the word "project" last month to describe the creation of the buffer-zone.

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the reporting of Egypt's conduct has been so muted. Although Amnesty slammed its actions in November, other human rights organisations have remained strangely silent. Human Rights Watch, for instance, appears to have said nothing. A search of its site does, however, produce a report entitled "Razing Rafah". But that, of course, is a decade-old attack on Israel.

February 19, 2015 11:59

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