From Academic Kids

Rafah (Arabic: رفح Hebrew: רפיח) is a town in the Gaza Strip, on the Egyptian border, and a nearby town on the Egyptian side of the border, on the Sinai Peninsula. Over the ages is has been known as Robihwa by Egyptians, Rafihu by Assyrians, Raphia by Greeks and Romans, and now Rafah by the Arabs. The Aramaic text Targum Onkelos interpretted the Biblical location of Chatzerim as referring to Rafah, but there is no other evidence for this.

It is the largest town in the southern Strip, with a population of about 96,000, of which some 44,000 live in the two refugee camps about it, Canada Camp to the north, and Rafah camp to the south.



Ancient period

Rafah has a history stretching back thousands of years. It was first recorded in an inscription of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, from 1303 BC, and as the first stop on Pharaoh Shoshenq I's campaign to Palestine in 925 BC.

In 720 BC it was the site of the Assyrian king Sargon II's victory over the Egyptians, and in 217 BC the Battle of Raphia was fought between the victorious Ptolemy IV and Antiochus III. (It is said to be the largest battle ever fought in Palestine, with over a hundred thousand soldiers and hundreds of elephants).

During the Byzantine period, it was a Diocese, and an important trading city during the early Arab period, however it steadily declined and was likely abandoned by the 12th century. By the Mameluk period it was recorded as a postal station, and 16th century Ottoman records show a small village of 16 taxpayers.

The 20th century

In 1917 the British army captured Rafah, and it was used as a base for the attack on Gaza. The presence of the army bases drew people back to the city, and in 1922 it had a population of 600. By 1948 the population had risen to 2,500. After the Israeli War of Independence, the refugee camps were established, and in 1967 the population was about 55,000, of whom only 11,000 lived in Rafah itself.

In the summer of 1971, the IDF under General Ariel Sharon (then head of the IDF southern command), destroyed (http://hrw.org/reports/2004/rafah1004/5.htm#_Toc84676178) approximately two thousand houses in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, a quarter of them in Rafah. Bulldozers plowed through dense urban areas to create wide patrol roads to facilitate the general mobility of Israeli forces. The demolitions in Rafah displaced nearly four thousand people. Israel established the Brazil and Canada housing projects to accommodate displaced Palestinians; Brazil is to the immediate south of Rafah, whereas Canada was located just across the border in Sinai. Both were named because UN peacekeeping troops from those respective countries had maintained barracks in those locations. After the Camp David peace treaty mandated the repatratiation of Canada project refugees to the Gaza Strip, the Tel al-Sultan project, to the northwest of Rafah, was built to accommodate them.

The al-Aqsa Intifada

Missing image

Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada on September 2000, Rafah was a major area of conflict between the Israeli Defence Forces and Palestinian militants. IDF forces claim to operate in Rafah mainly to search and destroy smuggling tunnels - which are used by Palestinian terrorists to smuggle weapons and explosives. According to the IDF, each incursion into Rafah is faced with a heavy resistance which include gunfire, IED charges and RPG attacks. The incursions usually leave behind them extensive damage and demolished structures. According to UNRWA, as for July 2004 more than 15,000 people had been made homeless by demolishing their homes. The Palestinians and many observers say that most of the destruction is a form of collective punishment and that the IDF is engaged in what the Haaretz editorial of July 27, 2004 called a "scorched earth" policy. Human Rights Watch charged (http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/gaza) that the destruction of homes is aimed at creating a depopulated 'buffer zone' along the Egyptian border, as called for by Sharon, former Southern Command chief Yom-Tov Samiya, and other high-ranking Israeli officials. The report also accused the IDF of using tunnels as a pretext for demolitions, since existing technologies (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/rafah1004/6.htm#_Toc84676187) would enable the detection and demolition of tunnels at the border, obviating destructive incursions into the camp. In a similar vein, Ha'aretz reported (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=568178) in April 2005 that the IDF (for unclear reasons) rejected a proposal from Israeli scientist for such border control measures as early as 1990.

The map to the right, made by Human Rights Watch, shows Rafah, including areas razed by the IDF as of December 2003.

On May 18, 2004 Israel launched a large offensive on the town dubbed Operation Rainbow, cutting it off from the rest of Gaza. According to UNRWA, 167 houses were demolished. Operation Rainbow was widely criticized by the international community, including by a Security Council resolution. (http://ods-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N04/357/21/PDF/N0435721.pdf?OpenElement)

External links

fr:Rafah he:רפיח nl:Rafah


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