Fri, Jun 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israeli farmers come to homeless Palestinian's aid

PITIFUL SIGHT Images of a heartbroken former employee sitting on the rubble of his house, destroyed by Israeli tanks, moved the farming community to act

AP , JERUSALEM

Residents of an Israeli farming community are raising funds to help a former Palestinian employee rebuild his home, demolished in the recent weeklong Israeli raid in the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border.

Television images of Mousa Shaqfeh, 47, standing over the rubble of his home prompted the effort, residents of the Reem communal farm said on Wednesday.

Israel's Channel Two TV aired footage of Shaqfeh on Tuesday night, sitting on a mountain of rubble, hiding his tearful face from the camera. Touched by the images, residents of Reem, Shaqfeh's former employers, decided to act.

"It was heartbreaking," said Ziva Ben-Porat, a Reem resident. "I saw him sitting on the ruins of his home. We decided something should be done."

Shaqfeh worked in Reem for 20 years, helping residents with chores on their farms and in their homes. He said they became like family to him, helping him out whenever they could.

He was forced to leave his job after Israeli-Palestinian violence intensified more than three years ago.

Ben-Porat would not say how much money has been raised, but admitted that the total would not be enough to rebuild the home.

"We are not millionaires," said Ben-Porat. "This will not be enough to take him [Shaqfeh] off the list of homeless refugees."

Shaqfeh's home was demolished last month by Israeli army bulldozers when troops raided the camp after six Israeli soldiers were killed when Palestinian militants blew up their armored personnel vehicle.

Shaqfeh said bulldozers crashed into his house twice before soldiers allowed his family to evacuate. He said his 12-year-old son suffered a head injury from falling rubble. The house demolition left Shaqfeh, his wife and eight children, ranging in age from six to 25, homeless.

Shaqfeh and his family are now living in a UN school in the Rafah camp where tents were set up for families whose homes were either damaged or destroyed during the six-day military invasion that ended on May 24.

Israel says its frequent incursions into Rafah aim to uncover smuggling tunnels from Egypt, a main weapons supply line for Palestinian militants. The militants hide the tunnel exits under homes in the camp, using civilians as a shield, military officials say.

During the raid, which ended last week, the Israelis said they found two tunnels. The military said another was discovered on Wednesday. No tunnel was found under Shaqfeh's home.

Shaqfeh's case is not unusual in Rafah. According to UNRWA, the UN agency that helps refugees, 360 families have had their homes demolished by Israeli forces in Rafah since May 1. The agency called the period one of the most destructive in Rafah since the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, and it launched its own fund-raising campaign to help the homeless.

"This is really important," said Ben-Porat. "Each side can still believe in the humanity of others ... even in these dark days."

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