Catastrophe in Rafah

Alaa Al-Mashharawi, Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

Rafah is grappling with a humanitarian catastrophe due to food shortages and the spread of disease under the constant threat of Israeli bombs, reports Alaa Al-Mashharawi from Gaza

Catastrophe in Rafah


Four-and-a-half months into the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, Rafah residents in the south of Gaza fear an impending humanitarian catastrophe if Israel carries out its threat to launch a military operation in the city.

Conditions in Rafahare fast deteriorating, especially after it became home to 1.5 million displaced residents of the Strip. The continued Israeli bombing, lack of the necessities of life, and thousands of people being forced to sleep out in the openor in tents have all led to catastrophic humanitarian conditions, including the threat of epidemics and the spread of diseases.

Nidal Khadra, a political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that there is no safe place in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing Israeli aggression. The brutal crimes and daily massacres that the Israeli army has been carrying out have extended to areas including Mawasi, Khan Younis, and Rafah in the south of the Strip, despite earlier Israeli claims that these areas are safe for displaced people.

Khadra raised concerns about the growing concentration of displaced people in Rafah along theborder with Egypt, which could force them to seek refuge in Egypt, a scenario already anticipated by Philip Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered hisarmy to “prepare” for an attack on Rafah, the last resort for Gazans who have escapedthe widespread destruction in the northern and central Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas on 7 October.

“As part of the Israeli policy of spreading confusion, repeated displacement orders have compelled Gaza residents to flee multiple times. Some 1.5 million Gazans have sought refuge in Rafah, causing the city’s population to multiply fivefold compared to before October 2023. With the present Israeli threats to attack Rafah, there seems to be no safe haven in the Gaza Strip,” Khadra said.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza has confirmed the catastrophic situation in Rafah’s hospitals, which lack even the most basic services for the wounded. Rafah has been transformed into a vast camp for the displaced, where people struggle to obtain the necessities of life.

The increase in injured people coming into the hospitals has overwhelmed medical teams, exacerbating the challenge due to shortages of medicines, medical supplies, fuel, and medical personnel.

The Ministry of Health has issued a warning about the health and humanitarian conditions in local shelters due to the prevalence of infectious diseases, malnutrition, and the lack of potable water and personal hygiene equipment. Health teams have documented 326,000 cases of infectious diseases, anticipating even higher numbers.

The Rafah hospitals, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, are grappling with a severe shortage of medicines, especially anaestheticdrugs and surgicalthread. Laboratories face critical shortages of blood, blood derivatives, blood bags, blood group tests, compatibility tests, viral tests, tests for kidney and liver patients, and antibiotics required for bacterial infections.

The raid by the Israeli army on the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, a vital hospital in southern Gaza, has dashed the hopes of thousands of wounded and sick people seeking treatment.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyehsaidthat Israel is aiming to render the Gaza Strip “unlivable” and is pushing the Gazans towards Rafah. He said that Israel is still discussing plans for displacing the Palestinian people.

Since 7 October, the Israeli army has imposed a suffocating blockade on the Gaza Strip, launching military attacks that have devastated infrastructure and precipitated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Gazan people have been suffering from severe shortages of food, water, and medical supplies, coupled with the displacement of the majority of the Strip’s population from an area comprising 67 per cent of the total landor from 246 square km of the total of 360 square km.

Humanrights activist Salah Abdel-Ati, director of the Hashd Foundation for Human Rights, warnedof the dire situation of the displaced in Rafah, referring to reports indicating Israeli intentions to escalate themilitary assault and invade the city which currently hosts over half of the Strip’s population.

Abdel-Ati said the ongoing killing of the Palestinians is evidence of Israel’s commitment to advancing the crime of genocide against them.

The Israeli army’s excessive use of force and disregard of warnings of the perilous consequences of a ground operation in Rafah are further proof of the crime of genocide in Gaza, he added, voicing apprehensions about potential new massacres in Rafah against the remaining population of the Gaza Strip.

Humanrights organisations in Gaza have documented a surge in deaths attributed to hunger, malnutrition, or disease. A recent tragic incident involved the death of four children in the northern Strip. The economic situation has left displaced people unable to secure nutritious food, and this has been compounded by their receiving only 1.5 to twolitres of unsafe water per person per day, which is insufficient to meet their daily needs.

Abdel-Ati called on the international community to force Israel to haltthe genocide, including the forced displacement of the Palestinians, and the imposition of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. He said the decisions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) preventing the commission of genocide should be adhered to and urged practical measures to safeguard the lives of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Pressure should be put on Israel to facilitate the delivery of food and medical aid to the Gaza Strip, he added.

The campaign against UNRWA by Israel, coupled with decisions from various countries to cease funding the UN agency, poses a significant threat to the supply of food to the people of the Gaza Strip who are currently receiving only about five per cent of their needs.

Fears of famine are growing in Rafah and across the Gaza Strip, especially after the Palestinian Crossings Authority reported a substantial decrease in the number of aid trucks entering Gaza, with only around 40 reported in the last week.

The continued closure of the Karm Shalom Crossing is exacerbating the challenging living conditions, contrary to the emergency measures called for by the ICJ.

Khalil Aql, a 45-year-old displaced man, said that “we are faced with harsh conditions. There is no food, no water, and no medical treatment. What will happen if Israel invades Rafah? Where will we go? There is already no space in Rafah for the displaced. There will be a horrific massacre.”

“Hundreds of displaced people have relocated from the southeastern regions of Rafah to the western areas, with many fleeing to Deir Al-Balah and the Central Strip, despite the absence of a genuinely safe place in the whole of Gaza.”

Aya Khalil, a 32-year-old displaced woman from the Tal Al-Hawa neighbourhood in Gaza, now residing near the Emirati Hospital inTal Al-Sultan in Rafah with her three daughters, recounted their journey of displacement from Khan Younis to Rafah.

She said that “there is no safe place in the entire Gaza Strip” and warned of potential massacres and genocide if Rafah is attacked, revealing a sense of helplessness amid the “constant fear of death and atrocities.”

Malak Fadda, a young activist from Rafah, engaged with fellow young people to provide assistance to the displaced. Through the “Resilient Gaza... Gaza of Hope”Initiative, she and her peers are trying to ameliorate the catastrophic conditions in all areas of Gaza and the shortage of food, medicines, and water.

Prices have been rising rapidly, and people are having to stand in line for hours to receive water or bread.

Fadda, along with a group of other volunteers, works to provide meals and organise recreational activities for the displaced in order“to alleviate their suffering, bring smiles to the children’s faces, and share their pain.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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