Rafah: A further genocide

Alaa Al-Mashharawi, Sunday 19 May 2024

Palestinians in Gaza are being forced to flee once again, this time from the Israeli invasion of Rafah.

Rafah: A further genocide

 

The suffering of hundreds of thousands of already displaced people is being compounded. Panic and despair prevail as Palestinians flee once again, this time from the centre of Rafah in southern Gaza towards Deir Al-Balah in the central sector or Khan Yunis in the west.

Barely had they received the evacuation orders than the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) unleashed barrages of gun and missile fire from the air, land, and sea, forcing them to scramble to gather their meagre belongings and their tents before embarking on another leg in the seemingly endless journey of misery, humiliation, and oppression, while bombs explode nearby and reconnaissance drones continually buzz overhead.

The normally bustling Al-Awda Square and Rafah’s main street are nearly devoid of pedestrians and traffic. The shops are shuttered. The town seems to be holding its breath in anticipation of yet another humanitarian catastrophe that has set its sights on tens of thousands of vulnerable civilians, many forced to sleep in the open, malnourished, at risk of infection from disease, and with no options left.

On Saturday morning, the IOF started to rain down leaflets over central Rafah ordering people to evacuate the area immediately, residents told Al-Ahram Weekly. The IOF then began to expand the ground incursion it had begun in eastern Rafah, heedless of international warnings of the humanitarian risks.

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), an estimated 150,000 people have fled Rafah since the Israeli offensive began on Monday, “looking for safety where there’s none.” The UN Agency added that “at least 300,000 people are affected as further areas across Gaza receive new evacuation orders today, both towards central Rafah in the south and Jabalia in north Gaza.”

The Gaza-based Ministry of Health sounded an urgent cry for help to save thousands of patients in the remaining hospitals and clinics in the Strip, warning of the further genocide the Israeli Occupation is perpetrating by closing the last crossings and preventing all entry or exit of persons or goods.

This includes the sick and wounded, medical aid and supplies, food relief and the fuel needed to operate medical facilities.

“We have launched an urgent appeal to save the lives of the sick and wounded and to open the crossings to let in the necessary medical and relief trucks for Gaza’s hospitals,” Iyad Qudeih, director of the Media Unit at the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said in a statement to the Weekly.

The few remaining hospitals in Gaza are already in a dire state, he said, adding that the only kidney dialysis centre in the Rafah governorate has been forced to stop operating due to the Israeli shelling and the threat of occupation.

Meanwhile, the sick and wounded are “suffering from a slow death” due to the lack of treatment and medical supplies and now the impossibility of transporting them abroad “even though the lists of patients in need of urgent medical care have been sent to neighbouring countries.”

Qudeih stressed the need for UN agencies and other international organisations to push for the delivery of fuel supplies to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza “before it is too late.”

“We call for an immediate and urgent intervention to supply all the hospitals with fuel, repair them, and get them up and running again before a humanitarian disaster kills thousands of people,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza warned that the lack of the fuel needed to power the medical facility would paralyse all medical services and cause a humanitarian crisis.

He stressed that the Hospital administration would “hold the Israeli Occupation, the US administration, and all other relevant authorities fully responsible for the disaster that could occur at any moment and that could result in the deaths of many vulnerable patients and children, especially those in intensive care and neonatal care units.”

At the same time, Munther Shiblaq, director-general of the Coastal Municipalities Water Authority in Gaza, has warned of an impending “water catastrophe” due to the ongoing Israeli military assault and the closure of the Rafah Crossing, cutting off fuel supplies for the electricity generators that power water desalination and pumping plants along with the wastewater disposal and treatment facilities throughout the Strip.

Many pumping stations have already stopped functioning owing to a lack of fuel, he said. In an urgent appeal, he urged the international community and international humanitarian organisations to do everything in their power to deliver the fuel to operate the generators that power the water and wastewater facilities in Gaza to avert a total shutdown of most of these facilities within 72 hours.

Most water and wastewater facilities in Gaza have been operating exclusively on generators since the onset of the Israeli war against Gaza when Israel imposed a near-total shutdown of the regular power supply. Fuel shortages have since led to significant reductions in the amounts of potable water pumped through the mains or delivered by tankers to the shelters and camps for displaced people.

 

VOICES FROM RAFAH:“We’ve decided to move to the Nuseirat Camp in central Gaza as a family of seven,” Khalil Aql, 48 years old, told the Al-Quds news site.

“We have no idea what the occupation has planned against us. Nothing is preventing them from carrying out more massacres, killing women and children, and demolishing and burning down people’s homes.”

“This is the fourth time we’ve been displaced since they destroyed our home in Sheikh Radwan. First, we went to the Al-Shifa Hospital before they stormed it. Then we went to Khan Yunis before they occupied it. Then we came to Rafah. Who knows what will happen to us now. We’re heading into the unknown.”

Saleh Hamto, 34, said that he had decided to move to Mawasi to the west of Rafah because he believed that the IOF planned to invade eastern and southern Rafah, but not the western part of the governorate and the Al-Bab Beach or the northern part and Khan Yunis.

“The west is safer, so that’s where I’m taking my family. We’re tired of being displaced and having to move, but we have to save our women and children from a criminal enemy who goes beyond every decent boundary, who has no respect for any international treaties or conventions, and who violates everything it comes into contact with.”

Maher Mohamed, 52, a resident of Tel Al-Sultan, a refugee camp just north of Rafah city, vowed not to leave his home under any circumstances. “I’m not going to leave this street, come what may. My family and I are going to stay right here. We’re not going to budge an inch. Even if God decrees our death, our hope is that we can die on our land,” he said.

“Israel is trying to terrorise people to build up pressure on the resistance. It’s terrorising civilians as a way to get its abducted soldiers back. This only makes us more determined to stay in our homes and not move until the very end.”

“Why is this happening to us,” asked Mervat Al-Qayed, 43, fighting back her tears. She was seated on a horse-drawn cart together with her husband and five children and whatever belongings they could hastily gather.

“When the war began, we fled from the Sabra neighbourhood [in western Gaza] to the Bureij Camp, then to Khan Yunis, and then to Rafah. Where are we going to go now? Why is the world just sitting back and watching this happen? We’re living in constant terror, hunger, and poverty. What more does Israel want from us? How much longer is this going to go on?”

Ghada Kahil, 28, displaced for the fourth time after having been displaced from Gaza City to Khan Yunis and then to Rafah, recalled in comments to the Al-Quds newssite that “thousands of displaced people have set up their tents on the coast or along dirt roads and in the rare empty spaces they could find in the direction of Khan Yunis and the central sector of Gaza because there is no proper shelter.”

“Along the way, and amidst the agonies of displacement, hardship, and fear of the unknown, a violent sandstorm struck. The heavy winds uprooted many of the tents,” she said, adding that “because of the shortage of cars and trucks due to the lack of fuel, the displaced are using carts drawn by horses and donkeys while many are forced to travel long distances on foot.”

Mohamed Muin, 36, now in Zawaida in central Gaza after having been displaced from Rafah, said that “all along Al-Bahr Street west of Rafah you can see innumerable displaced women and children walking dozens of kilometres on rugged terrain and carrying mattresses, blankets, and food in search of a safer place in the new displacement areas in central and western Gaza.”

Jamil Abd Rabbu, a 58-year-old businessman and the head of a family of more than 50 members, said that earlier in the war he had to hire several trucks to transport his family from Ezbat Abd Rabbu in the Jabalia district of northern Gaza to Rafah. Now he has rented an empty plot in the Deir Al-Balah area.

“Five tents aren’t enough to accommodate us all,” he told the Al-Quds news site. “But we pitched them anyway, and now we await the fate that God has decreed for us in this war.”

Samah Qudeih, 33, was displaced from Abasan Al-Kabira in the Khan Yunis governorate after her home was destroyed. She moved to the Nuseirat Camp and then to Rafah and then back towards Khan Yunis on the coast.

Speaking to Al-Quds, she asked “where do we go now, with the sea in front of us and the Israelis behind us? Every time they displace us, we have to look for a new shelter, but we can’t afford the transportation costs. We’re so weary!”

Palestinian political analyst Nidal Khadra told the Weekly that “the Israeli army’s stated aim is to evacuate Rafah so it can carry out its ground operation without inflicting massive casualties. In fact, the occupation’s aim is to compound the suffering of the displaced by cramming them into the Mawasi area on the coast.”

“This is a narrow strip of land about 12 km long and one km deep extending from Deir Al-Balah in the north to the Rafah governorate in the south. It’s a desolate, sandy area that is unsuitable for human habitation due to the lack of infrastructure, including water and wastewater and power lines, not to mention communications networks and Internet connections.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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