UN expert warns of mass expulsion as Israel issues new evacuation order

Palestinians leave al-Bureij refugee camp following Israeli evacuation orders on 22 December.

Omar Ashtawy APA images

Israel’s military operations in Gaza are aimed at deporting the “majority of the civilian population en masse,” an independent UN human rights expert has warned.

“Gaza’s housing and civilian infrastructure have been razed to the ground,” said Paula Gaviria Betancur, the UN special rapporteur on internally displaced persons.

This widespread destruction impedes “any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel,” Gaviria added.

Some 1.9 million people – the vast majority of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million – have been internally displaced since 7 October. Israel’s forcible transfer orders have concentrated ever more Palestinians into increasingly overcrowded areas.

On Friday, the Israeli military issued evacuation orders in a new area covering some 9 square kilometers, including al-Bureij and Nuseirat refugee camps.

“Instructions accompanying the map call residents to move immediately to shelters in Deir al-Balah, which is already overcrowded, hosting several hundred thousand” displaced people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated.

Nowhere is safe in Gaza, as Israel has bombarded areas that it ordered evacuated, as well as areas that it ordered civilians to move to.

On Friday, Israeli airstrikes killed 76 Palestinians from the al-Mughrabi family in Gaza City, “making the attack one of the deadliest of the war,” the AP news agency reported.

Among those killed were United Nations Development Program worker Issam al-Mughrabi, his wife Lamya and their five children, ranging in age from 13 to 32.

In Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza, TV journalist Mohammed Khalifa and 14 others were killed in Israeli strikes.

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza since 7 October. Several thousands more remain missing, many of them under the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Rendering return impossible

Human Rights Watch recently stated that the Israeli military appears to be “taking actions that render return impossible” for displaced Palestinians.

The New York-based group published satellite imagery showing that agricultural lands that were green in mid-October had been destroyed by 24 November.

The razing of farmland and orchards in Gaza will exacerbate the already dire economic situation in the territory, which had been subjected to 16 years of blockade before the current Israeli offensive.

The collapsing of Gaza’s food systems is worsening food insecurity as Palestinians face starvation.

Meanwhile, Israel is systematically targeting and destroying Gaza’s health system.

An analysis by The Washington Post found that “Israel has carried out its war in Gaza at a pace and level of devastation that likely exceeds any recent conflict.”

The paper also found that Israel “has conducted repeated and widespread airstrikes in proximity to hospitals, which are supposed to receive special protection under the laws of war.”

As of Friday, only nine out of 36 of Gaza’s hospitals are partially functional, all of them in the south, according to the World Health Organization.

Satellite imagery “revealed dozens of apparent craters near 17 of the 28 hospitals in northern Gaza,” The Washington Post reported. Ten of the craters “suggested the use of bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, the largest in regular use,” the Post added.

Léo Cans, head of mission for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Palestine, was quoted by the Post saying that there was a planned Israeli campaign “to close down all the hospitals in the north.”

Experts told CNN that the widespread use of unguided “dumb bombs” in Gaza “undercuts the Israeli claim that they are trying to minimize civilian casualties.”

“Nakba 2023”

Israel’s defense minister and military spokesperson have stated, respectively, that “Gaza will never be the same” and that “we’re focused on what causes maximum damage.”

According to a 1948 convention, genocide includes acts deliberately inflicting on a people “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Avi Dichter, former head of Israel’s secret police the Shin Bet and a minister in the security cabinet, described the evacuation orders as “rolling out the Gaza Nakba.” Israel’s war will end with “Gaza Nakba 2023,” he added.

The Nakba – Arabic for catastrophe – is the ethnic cleansing of Palestine carried out by Zionist forces between 1947 and 1949.

Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister, and Danny Danon, a lawmaker in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, are among the many politicians in the country advocating “voluntary immigration” from Gaza.

Israel has also declared its intention to establish buffer zones that would cut into the already narrow Gaza Strip, and likely prevent Palestinians from cultivating the territory’s most fertile land along the periphery.

Israel’s plan to pump seawater into alleged tunnels under Gaza is a deliberate attempt to render the territory uninhabitable, while destroying historical cultural heritage sites, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

The British research group Forensic Architecture has documented newly installed water pumps at the now mostly destroyed significant archaeological site in Gaza City’s Beach refugee camp dating back to the Iron Age.

Biden’s role

The US, widely seen as a full partner to Israel’s military campaign, claims to oppose any measure that would decrease the size of Gaza.

But the Biden administration’s statements in support of Gaza’s territorial integrity and the safety of civilians are belied by the material and diplomatic support it is providing to Israel.

Washington has lifted virtually every restriction on Israel’s access to US weapons stockpiled in the country for use in regional conflicts while obstructing calls for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council.

Joe Biden, who has on multiple occasions acknowledged the “indiscriminate” nature of Israel’s bombing in Gaza, has come under pressure from lawmakers in his own party seeking greater transparency in Washington’s provision of weapons Israel.

Biden and his secretaries of state and defense are being sued by Palestinians for their failure to prevent the genocide unfolding in Gaza and for their complicity in the commission of genocide.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers have recorded multiple videos of themselves celebrating the detonation of civilian infrastructure in Gaza:


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.