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Palestinians in besieged Gaza: 'We are not leaving our homes, no safe place in Gaza'

October 14, 2023 at 12:50 pm

Civil defense members and residents conduct search and rescue operation amid rubble and destroyed buildings after Israeli airstrikes continue on the seventh day in Rafah, Gaza on October 13, 2023. [Abed Rahim Khatib – Anadolu Agency]

As the all-out Israeli onslaught enters its seventh day, Israel is preparing for the second phase to invade Gaza. Leaflets dropped from the air, ordering residents of northern Gaza to leave towards Wadi Gaza in the south. Scenes of devastation and high numbers of civilian casualties drew some international condemnation. Israel’s ally, namely the US administration, came up with the idea of creating a safe corridor to enable Gazans to leave their homes.

As the indiscriminate bombardment intensified, more civilians were killed, causing panic amid the psychological warfare. Many people expressed their rejection to leave, stating they would prefer to die inside their homes. Others went on foot carrying some of their belongings, while others drove their cars in their hundreds. As expected, Israeli warplanes targeted the civilian convoy, killing 75, including 25 children and injuring 250 others. No surprise, Israel knows the red line. It could justify this massacre by saying it was collateral damage, even if the issue of proportionality is raised.

Many of those who fled returned to their homes under the bombardment. The scenes of terrified people fleeing in their hundreds of thousands on the streets were very painful as they brought back images of the Nakba when indigenous Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in 1948, at the hands of Zionist militias, to make room for Israel to exist. As soon as night falls, Gazans brace themselves for another horrifying period of constant raids and tank shelling. As if cutting utilities was not enough, Israel threatened to cut off the internet service to impose a media blackout. Imposing a blockade on top of the already-imposed blockade since 2007 was just another way of showing the collective punishment policy Israel has been using. The above measures amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but we know Israel will get away with it as it is a rough state above international law.

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In light of the ongoing power cuts and targeting of mobile networks, many people lost contact with family members and loved ones, whether inside Gaza or abroad. I was unable to contact my family, very worried about their safety and where they were in case they had to flee.

The sophisticated attack on Saturday, 7 October by Palestinian resistance groups, namely Hamas, surprised everyone. The images of Israeli soldiers being humiliated, killed and captured sent shockwaves and caused hysteria in Israel. It was a total failure by Israel’s intelligence services not to detect the sudden attack, in which hundreds of fighters infiltrated the border fence, took over many Israeli military bases and only found out about this operation six hours later. The images of motorised hang-gliders descending from the air and motorbikes and speed boats infiltrating the ground and naval border were something we never imagined seeing. It was a sharp slap to Israel’s face that one of the most powerful armies in the world was subjected to this humiliation by Palestinian combat fighters trained locally under siege. The scenes of Israelis and foreign travellers fleeing in panic to Ben Gurion Airport were also painful to Israelis amid the continued rocket fire from besieged Gaza.

After absorbing the shock, Israel declared war on the war-torn besieged Gaza, cutting off electricity, water, fuel and food shipments. It sent tens of its warplanes and started pounding Gaza and levelling buildings in Gaza. Tel Aviv wants to save face, seek revenge, restore its so-called Power of Deterrence and reverse the embarrassment it suffered.

The relentless air strikes and tank shelling over the past few days levelled entire neighbourhoods using excessive force, including internationally banned weapons such as white phosphorus bombs. This drew yet more international condemnation and warning that such bombs burn through the bone and must not be used in civilian areas.

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According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), around 350,000 Gazans are internally displaced and seeking shelter at UN-run schools. Others are homeless in the streets, fearing that even schools might be hit based on previous experiences, as happened during the last four wars and offensives waged on Gaza.

There is no safe place in Gaza, no fortified bunkers like in Israel. Gaza’s 2.5 million citizens are trapped in the 360 square kilometres sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea from the west and an Israeli-controlled fence from the east and north, sharing a border with Egypt for ten kilometres. The only access point for the people of Gaza to the outside world is the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing, which was also struck by Israeli missiles, leading to a temporary closure of the terminal. There are talks about allowing Palestinians with foreign passports and international staff to leave first in coordination with Egypt.

Many would call what is happening an ethnic cleansing campaign and a genocidal war. The Gaza Health Ministry announced that 1,900 Palestinians, including 614 children, were killed and 7,000 others injured. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated badly in light of the lack of drinking water, power outages, shortage of food and inability to stock up supplies due to the intensity of the bombardment and devastation.

As I’m writing this piece, I’m unable to contact my family and only able to watch the horrifying news. It is infuriating that Israel claims its war on Gaza is a war on Hamas, but the emerging and circulated footage shows the casualties are civilians. As the fierce aggression and aerial bombardment continues unabated, some Israeli officials suggest implementing the plan and forcing Gazans to flee towards Egypt.

The timid condemnations on the part of the international community and Arab regimes are very painful to Gazans, with some publishing videos expressing their disappointment with the weak stance of the Arab and Islamic regimes.

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Killing civilians and destroying their homes is a dirty way of forcing Palestinians to blame Hamas for bringing this devastation. On the other hand, the Palestinian resistance group Hamas continued to fire long-range homemade projectiles and street fights inside some Israeli settlements along Gaza’s 40 kilometres, despite the 24-hour surveillance and drones that patrol the Gaza sky.

The US, led by the Joe Biden administration, expressed its utmost support for Israel and its right to defend itself. It sent the USS Gerald carrier to provide support in anticipation that this aggression would expand to include Hezbollah in south Lebanon.

The mass killing and destruction that Israel is waging against civilians by its advanced military arsenal is somehow justified by the US, the UK and many other states under the pretext that Tel Aviv has the right to self-defence. Israel is the occupying power and is allowed to arm itself, while Palestinians, who have been the victims and oppressed under military occupation for 75 years, are not allowed to arm themselves or resist Israel. Ironically, Ukraine’s president, whose country faced Russian military occupation and invasion, expressed support for Israel to defend itself. However, Palestinians under 75 years of colonisation are not allowed to arm themselves or protect themselves.

Let’s not forget that the peace process between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel was born dead, as the latter killed any chance for peace because it is unwilling to give its control nor recognise Palestinians’ right to exist or grant them self-determination based on UN resolutions. The cycle of violence must end, but the international community must realise that the conflict’s root is the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. Palestinians are freedom seekers and they are not less human. It is time to stop dehumanising them: treat Palestinians fairly and give them hope.

One of Hamas’s goals of capturing Israelis, including soldiers, is to strike a prisoner swap deal to free over 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails, some of whom have languished behind bars for over 30 years.

Now the option of ground invasion is on the table, but whether Israel will go ahead and conduct the ground invasion or succeed in breaking the will of the Palestinians remains to be seen. The horrific images of casualties, mainly children in Gaza, should haunt the so-called civilised world who are watching Palestinians torn to pieces. It is state-sponsored terrorism against a homeless population living in the Gaza concentration camp, where over a third of its inhabitants are descendants of refugees kicked out of their homes in 1948 and 1967.

This is not a war. It is an aggression against the defenceless civilian population. Seeking revenge does not allow you to target civilians or impose collective punishment.

It is time to end the aggression on Gaza, save more lives and end the bloodshed. It is time to address the root cause of this conflict and force Israel to implement UN resolutions. It is time to end apartheid, give hope and grant Palestinians their long-due freedom.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.