Israel’s war of revenge against Palestinians in Gaza took horrendous new turns on Friday with the military ordering the evacuation of more than one million people in the north of the territory, particularly Gaza City.
The health ministry in Gaza has reported that at least 1,900 Palestinians in the territory were killed as of 10 pm local time.
Nearly 600 children in Gaza had been killed since Saturday, “representing one-third of the total death toll,” Defense for Children International-Palestine said.
Another 7,700 Palestinians have been injured in reprisal Israeli strikes since Saturday, when armed groups led by Hamas fired rockets and breached the Gaza boundary fence, launching an attack that Israel says killed 1,300 people in the country.Israeli authorities claim to be holding the bodies of some 1,500 Palestinian fighters.
The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said on Friday that 13 of the dozens of captives being held in Gaza since Saturday were killed in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, at least 51 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed by occupation forces and settlers since Saturday.
On Friday, an Israeli artillery strike targeted a group of journalists in southern Lebanon clearly marked as press, killing Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah.
The targeting and killing of the journalists was broadcast live on Al Jazeera:At least 10 Palestinian journalists have been killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza since Saturday. On Friday, human rights groups called for urgent international intervention to “protect the Palestinian people against genocide.” UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said that it would not evacuate its schools in northern Gaza being used as shelters for displaced people. More than 170,000 people were sheltering in UNRWA shelters in the area under the evacuation order, an agency spokesperson told media: The agency’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, warned that the forced evacuation “will only lead to unprecedented levels of misery and further push people in Gaza into the abyss.”
UNRWA said that “the scale and speed of the unfolding humanitarian crisis is bone-chilling. Gaza is fast becoming a hell hole and is on the brink of collapse.”
Israel’s evacuation order caused mass panic “as families attempt to flee to the south, even though there is no safe route or destination amid destroyed roads and continued Israeli airstrikes and shelling,” said human rights group Defense for Children International-Palestine.
The Red Cross said that Israel’s “evacuation orders, coupled with the complete siege, are not compatible with IHL [international humanitarian law].”
The UN and the World Health Organization pleaded for Israel to reverse the evacuation order and the “urgent establishment of a humanitarian corridor for safe aid delivery.”
A WHO spokesperson said that for patients including children on life support systems, “moving those people is a death sentence. Asking health workers to do so is beyond cruel.”The foreign ministry of Egypt, which seeks to prevent an exodus of Palestinians from Gaza into the Sinai Peninsula, condemned Israel’s order to evacuate and called on the UN “and international actors to intervene to prevent further escalation with unforeseen consequences.”
Palestinians in Gaza described the evacuation orders as psychological warfare and a trick as Israel bombed and killed people attempting to move south:Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, said that the evacuation order “appears to be another attempt by Israel to absolve itself of any responsibility for mass civilian casualties that could occur in a pending ground invasion among those who are unable, or unwilling, to leave.”
“This spells an unspeakable catastrophe,” Gisha warned.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said that the evacuation order, “absent any guarantees of safety or return, would amount to the war crime of forcible transfer. It must be reversed.”
The group added that “we fear that Israel may claim that Palestinians who could not flee northern Gaza can be erroneously held as directly participating in hostilities, and targeted.”
Physicians for Human Rights Israel said that “Israel’s plans for the deportation and forced transfer of a civilian population amounts to ethnic cleansing and constitutes a crime against humanity.”
Reliving the Nakba
Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are refugees, said that they were reliving the Nakba – Israel’s mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, from which they were prevented from returning by threat of death.
For some Nakba survivors and their descendants, their preference was to die rather than live through another march to the unknown.The death toll in Gaza – which has been cut off from food, fuel, electricity, water and medical supplies – climbed as Israel bombed Palestinians attempting to flee the areas it had ordered evacuated, killing dozens of people. Meanwhile on Friday, Israel announced that it would cut off internet connectivity in Gaza on Saturday in what many warned was a prelude to mass killings and genocide.
Israeli airstrikes have also destroyed two of the three main lines for mobile communications in the Gaza Strip, according to the UN.
One contact in Gaza City told The Electronic Intifada that the lack of electricity and therefore the inability to recharge batteries may end contact with the outside world even before internet and mobile communication lines are completely cut off.
“Campaign of genocide”
Palestinian human rights groups widely employed the language of genocide for the first time on Friday.
“Israeli officials’ statements combined with widespread and systematic attacks carried out by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip raise extreme concern that this is now a campaign of genocide against the Palestinian people,” said Brad Parker from Defense for Children International-Palestine.
“Israeli military assaults have reached an intensity where they are seemingly intended to deliberately kill large numbers of Palestinians in Gaza, and combined with Israeli total closure policies, show the aim is to destroy Palestinian life in Gaza,” Parker added.
“The international community, led by the US and European Union, are actively enabling the Israeli military to carry out a second Nakba and eradicate the Palestinian people,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, a program director with Defense for Children International-Palestine.
Genocide is one of the most serious crimes under international law and can “result from killing or by creating conditions of life that are so unbearable it brings about the group’s destruction,” the rights group said.Israeli military and political leaders made additional statements declaring their intent to perpetrate genocide in Gaza.
In a speech on Friday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog appeared to negate the protected civilian status of all 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza.
“It is an entire nation out there that is responsible … this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true,” Herzog said. “They could’ve risen up, they could’ve fought against that evil regime that took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”
“We will break their backbone,” Herzog added, while claiming – despite all evidence to the contrary – that Israel was adhering to the rule of international law.
Herzog’s remarks were reported by the Financial Times, which then deleted that section of its article, despite the authenticity of the speech, which was recorded on video.Meanwhile, Israel Katz, Israel’s electricity minister, stated on Friday that “we will fight the terrorist organization Hamas and destroy it. All the civilian population in Gaza is ordered to leave immediately.”
“We will win. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world.”
International agencies are ringing the alarm bells over Israel’s demand that more than a million people evacuate in a besieged and constantly bombarded territory where no place is safe.
The United Nations office in Palestine called on Israel to rescind its announcement, saying that “this will cause a humanitarian tragedy that can and must be averted.”
The UN warned that “mass displacement puts the lives of the sick and wounded in immediate danger and risks a public health disaster, at a time when the health system in Gaza is on the brink of collapse, hospitals in the south of the Gaza Strip are at capacity and unable to accept new patients.”
“Humanitarian access must be granted immediately and unconditionally,” the UN’s office in Palestine said. “Let us deliver the aid that is needed.”
“Do not let Gaza disappear in silence”
Three Palestinian human rights groups that had been publishing daily updates on Israeli violations in Gaza since Saturday said on Friday that they would not be publishing an update that day. Their staff in Gaza had been displaced, were cut off from power and the internet and were unable to move around safely.
“Do not let Gaza disappear in silence,” said Al-Haq, one of the Palestinian organizations.Al Jazeera and Palestinian media and people in Gaza reported new massacres on Friday. The UN said late Friday that “multiple residential buildings in densely populated areas have been targeted and destroyed during the past 24 hours.”
“The Israeli military has claimed to have attacked 12 multi-story buildings within one minute,” the UN added.
“According to Palestinian media, several residential buildings were hit by airstrikes, including in Jabaliya camp, northern Gaza, killing 25 people and injuring dozens of others, in al-Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza, killing 17 people, and in Bani Suheila, east of Khan Younis, killing 13 people and injuring 15 others.”
In addition to residential buildings throughout Gaza, Israel has hit 90 education facilities, including schools used as shelters for displaced people, mosques, churches and water and sanitation facilities.
In total, some 1,300 buildings have been completely destroyed in Gaza. More than 5,500 housing units have been totally destroyed, another 3,750 rendered uninhabitable and 55,000 partially damaged.
Some 425,000 people were displaced on Friday, before Israel’s evacuation order.
Palestinians were unable to hold funerals due to bombardment, with some people burying their loved ones in improvised graveyards in empty lots as Gaza’s larger cemeteries were too dangerous to access. Meanwhile, hospitals struggled to cope with the high number of casualties.
Many other casualties “were still trapped beneath the rubble, with Palestinian Civil Defense and medical teams unable to access areas due to safety concerns, equipment shortages and streets being severely damaged,” the UN said.Ramy Abdu of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said that Israel carried out four massacres killing at least 170 civilians in less than two hours – three of them occurring in locations Israel had ordered Palestinians to move to: Human Rights Watch called on Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to issue a public statement, given that “the stakes for civilians in the current hostilities are extremely high.”
“While any statement you make would no doubt be made in general terms rather than specific to any particular incidents,” the New York-based group said, “it is clear that horrific violations of international humanitarian law that amount to war crimes have been carried out by different parties.”
Instead of making a statement reflecting the urgency of the current situation, Khan made a rambling speech about “heartbreaking” images coming out of Israel and Palestine and made an abstract call “to do better as a species” in an interview with the Reuters news agency published on Friday.The investigation of “incriminating and exonerating evidence equally” is the court’s work, Khan said.
He mentioned specifically only Hamas and its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, as being potentially investigated under the court’s jurisdiction. He made no mention of Israeli state responsibility for suspected war crimes including its total blockade on Gaza.
In Washington, Joe Biden has given Benjamin Netanyahu free reign to continue the slaughter with US-sourced weapons and has faced little domestic pressure to curb the scorched earth campaign and siege of starvation on Gaza.
Dozens of members of Congress urged Biden to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza:Sara Jacobs, a member of Congress who founded and chairs the Protection of Civilians in Conflict Caucus, called on Israel to “reconsider” the evacuation order “in order to preserve civilian life.”
While some American lawmakers were calling for peace and the protection of civilians in Gaza, a State Department memo warned diplomats against using language urging calm.
HuffPost reported that “in messages circulated on Friday, State Department staff wrote that high-level officials do not want press materials to include three specific phrases: ‘de-escalation/ceasefire,’ ‘end to violence/bloodshed’ and ‘restoring calm.’”
The publication said that “the revelation provides a stunning signal about the Biden administration’s reluctance to push for Israeli restraint.”
Meanwhile, the White House spokesperson described calls from Congress for a ceasefire as “wrong,” “repugnant,” and “disgraceful.”Aware that they had been abandoned by world powers, Palestinians in Gaza used their remaining cell phone battery life and internet connection to post on social media what may be, and in some cases were, their last messages: