Israeli attacks newly displace one-fifth of Gaza’s population

Al-Maghazi refugee camp in centrarl Gaza after an Israeli airstrike on 11 May.

Omar Ashtawy APA images

Israel subjected Palestinians in closed-off Gaza to some of the most severe attacks yet in recent days. The violence caused a new wave of mass displacement among an already exhausted and traumatized population.

Around one-fifth of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people has been displaced – yet again – over the past week, according to the UN.

Meanwhile, fuel shortages threaten health services and “drive a rise in infectious diseases” due to limited access to sanitation facilities, the UN said.

The charity Oxfam said on Monday that “Israeli attacks since October caused at least $210 million worth of damage to Gaza’s water and sanitation infrastructure.”

The risk of epidemics is on the rise as the invasion of Rafah compounds the “lethal cocktail of overcrowding, sewage and hunger,” Oxfam added.

“Oxfam staff in Gaza have described piles of human waste and rivers of sewage in the streets, which people are having to jump between,” according to the charity. “They also reported people having to drink dirty water and children being bitten by insects swarming around the sewage.”

Crossings remain closed

Rafah crossing remained closed on Monday and there is no “safe and logistically viable access to Kerem Shalom crossing,” the UN said. Those two crossings were the hub of critically needed humanitarian operations in Gaza and were closed by Israel last week.

The Israeli military claimed that aid supplies entered northern Gaza via Erez checkpoint on Thursday and Zikim checkpoint on Sunday, and that 266,000 liters of fuel entered Gaza through Kerem Shalom, also on Sunday.

“Although some fuel and food supplies have entered Gaza over the past two days, aid supplies remain largely insufficient,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Monday.

“Prevailing conditions could aggravate the already catastrophic levels of hunger faced by the population,” the UN office added, noting that efforts to scale-up nutrition stabilization have been “reversed in Rafah” due to Israel’s evacuation orders and military escalation.

Nearly 200 Palestinians were reported killed in Gaza between 9 and 13 May, bringing to more than 35,000 the number of Palestinians killed in the territory since 7 October. Another 78,800 have been injured and some 10,000 people are missing, including under the rubble, according to local authorities in Gaza.

Five Israeli soldiers were reported killed in Gaza between 10 and 13 May, bringing to 272 the number of soldiers killed in Gaza or along the boundary since Israel’s ground offensive began in late October.

Intense fighting was reported around Gaza City in recent days.

On Friday, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said that Israel’s “random killings” in the city’s southeastern Zaytoun neighborhood, one of the most densely populated areas in Gaza, was aimed at forcing out its residents and destroying Gaza City.

Israeli quadcopter drones fired on and killed civilians in Zaytoun and the military attacked displaced people taking refuge in a school in the area, “resulting in numerous casualties,” according to Euro-Med Monitor.

The group said that Israel was expanding its so-called buffer zones “to strengthen its military position in the Netzarim axis” by which it controls Palestinians’ movement between northern and southern Gaza.

Israel pounds Jabaliya

On Sunday, Israeli tanks rolled back into northern Gaza, which its military has already reduced to ruins and where it claimed in January to have dismantled Hamas’ fighting forces in the area.

Israel ordered people to evacuate in the northern Gaza areas of Jabaliya and its refugee camp and Beit Lahiya on Saturday.

A Palestinian survivor said that the bodies of more than 40 women and children were recovered from a residential building leveled in an Israeli airstrike in Beit Lahiya. The children’s hands were still clasped to one another as their bodies were pulled from the rubble, the man told Al Jazeera.

Palestinians in the area reported more than 100 airstrikes in Jabaliya over the weekend.

“We thought the first days [of the war] were the worst, then we thought the starvation was the worst, but this bombing is like nothing we’ve seen,” Hossam Shabat, a journalist in northern Gaza, said on Sunday.

On Monday, Israeli forces besieged UNRWA schools east of Jabaliya refugee camp, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thousands of people had sought shelter at the schools, administered by the UN agency for Palestine refugees, after being displaced from other areas of northern Gaza.

Israeli tanks at the schools’ gates fired artillery shells and “Israeli quadcopter drones were firing at anyone moving,” according to the rights group.

“Displaced people were forced to leave the schools amid heavy gunfire and a number of them were arrested.”

At least 20 Palestinians were killed in the area and several people were reported to be trapped under the rubble of a home targeted in airstrikes in Jabaliya.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society published a video showing Ali Khalil, one of its volunteer paramedics, breaking down from grief after the bodies of his grandchildren were brought to one of the humanitarian group’s medical points in Jabaliya:

The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said on Sunday that its fighters had confronted enemy forces in Zaytoun near Gaza City, hit Merkava tanks east of Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza and fired rockets towards Israel from the Jabaliya area.


The Qassam Brigades also said that it had targeted Israeli ground forces near Rafah crossing in southern Gaza. After seizing control of it last week, Israel has turned Rafah crossing – which before the current war was the main point of exit and entry for people in and out of Gaza – into a military base:

The Egyptian group Sinai for Human Rights said that truck drivers transporting aid reported that large quantities of food had spoiled while waiting to offload in southern Gaza.

Israeli authorities said that rockets fired from Rafah on Friday night landed in Bir al-Saba, the cosmopolitan desert city purged of its Palestinian residents in 1948 and now known as Beersheva in Hebrew.

Israel ordered neighborhoods around eastern Rafah evacuated last week and some 360,000 Palestinians had fled the area as of Monday, according to UNRWA.

But many Palestinians in Rafah displaced from other areas of Gaza have no means of leaving and now lack access to health care and humanitarian aid.

Philippe Lazzarini, the director of UNRWA, said that most people in Gaza “have moved multiple times: on average once a month,” desperately seeking “safety that they never found.”

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said that “in over 30 years of studying and engaging with communities affected by displacement, I have never seen a shocking atrocity like this.”

Both Israeli and US officials have characterized the offensive in Rafah as a more limited operation. But the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said on Sunday that what is happening there “is a large-scale military attack.”

The group said that at least 116 Palestinians, including 22 women and 38 children, had been killed since the beginning of Israel’s ground offensive in Rafah seven days earlier. Others had gone missing, PCHR said.

The group added that Israel had increased its indiscriminate attacks in areas that had not been ordered to evacuate, with more than 50 Palestinians killed in the middle area of Gaza, including a doctor and his son.

“Israel is continuing its genocidal military campaign against the Palestinian people in Gaza unabated,” PCHR said.

“We reiterate our call for an immediate ceasefire. ُThis genocide must end now.”

UN workers killed

A 53-year-old employee of UNRWA was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, on Monday after having fled Rafah.

His death brings to 189 the number of UNRWA staff killed in Gaza since 7 October.

A United Nations Safety and Security staff member was killed and another severely injured when their UN vehicle came under fire while traveling to the European Gaza Hospital near Khan Younis, north of Rafah, on Monday morning.

Medical staff at the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah received an Israeli evacuation order, the British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians reported on Monday.

“This was one of the last remaining hospitals in Rafah and only had around 16 beds available for the more than one million people sheltering” in the area, MAP said.

“If the hospital is forced out of action, this could mean the complete collapse of the limited healthcare system in Rafah.”

The charity added that the European Gaza Hospital had run out of fuel as a result of Israel closing the crossings in southern Gaza, and after Israel cut off the supply of electricity to the territory in early October.

The closure of Rafah crossing “continues to mean that patients cannot be medically evacuated,” Medical Aid for Palestinians said. “We expect this to result in more unnecessary patient deaths as they are not able to access appropriate treatment in Gaza.”

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said on Monday that the evacuation orders in Rafah cannot be reconciled with the legally binding provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice.

Those measures included demands that Israel ensure the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid and basic services in Gaza.

On Friday, Turk said he deplored “all hostile acts that jeopardize the entry and distribution of critically needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

“The handful of land crossings into Gaza serve as lifelines for the supply of food, medicine, fuel and other necessities that must be allowed to reach the despairing and terrified population,” he added.

On Monday, video circulated on social media showing Israelis in the West Bank vandalizing cargo on an aid truck that was heading to Gaza:

“This happened for hours, in the presence of Israeli forces who didn’t intervene,” B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said.

B’Tselem added that “this flies in the face” of the International Court of Justice orders.


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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.