An Israeli invasion of Rafah, the last Israeli-designated “safe” zone in Gaza, is imminent, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered civilians to be evacuated. Preparations by the Israeli military are underway to expand their ground offensive. According to the UN, there are more than 1.4 million Palestinians jammed into the southernmost corner of Gaza. Most displaced persons are struggling to survive in makeshift tents with limited access to food, water and medicine. Their homes have been destroyed and there is nowhere safe left to go.
The bombardment of Gaza has been relentless for more than 120 days. The timeframe surpasses the notorious Rwandan genocide of 1994. More than 27,000 civilians in Gaza, mostly women and children, have been slaughtered. Even US President Biden, with his bottomless supply of military aid for Israel, remarked that the occupation state has gone too far and expanding the ground offensive in Rafah is a recipe for disaster. If it proceeds, the toll of those killed and wounded will soar. Are we about to witness the final act in a dystopian nightmare? If so, a blood bath awaits and regional stability, already shaky, will unravel further. The global ramifications are far reaching.
As someone who has worked in Gaza and remains in contact with former colleagues, I know that people are in a perpetual state of fear. This is heightened by this latest threat that is too quickly spiralling into a dismal reality. Some Palestinians have turned desperately to brokers who charge thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for a way out via Rafah into Egypt. The journey out of Gaza is perilous and there is no guarantee of success. Most civilians are not able to afford the exorbitant fees in any case, so remain trapped with their families like birds in a cage awaiting an increasingly gloomy fate.
Most wars offer some form of safe passage out of a conflict zone. For civilians in Gaza, though, freedom of movement is a privilege not afforded to most.
For those who do manage to negotiate a way out, the price tag is exceptionally high. Egypt has sealed the border apart from allowing an intermittent trickle of people through. For most Palestinians in Gaza, Rafah is the end of the road.
It is highly regrettable that the International Court of Justice was unable to insist on or enforce a ceasefire. Instead, Israel has been able to continue to flout international law by killing many more innocent civilians and preventing sufficient aid and medicines reaching the north and other parts of Gaza.
Most of us have now heard of the tragic story of Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old girl who was found dead in a car in Gaza amongst the bodies of several relatives under which she was hiding, all having been killed by Israeli forces. Moreover, the Israeli military deliberately targeted the Palestine Red Crescent ambulance sent to rescue Hind even though the society had obtained prior permission to allow rescue workers to help the child, who had pleaded for help using a mobile phone. It is the murder of innocent children like Hind, and health workers who are supposed to be protected under international law, that proponents of a ceasefire were trying to prevent.
It is deeply concerning that several Western governments have opted to cut funding to UNWRA in response to unproven allegations against a very few employees. This reflex response is a form of collective punishment against civilians in Gaza who rely entirely on aid, especially in the current circumstances. The withdrawal of funding contravenes the ICJ’s ruling that Israel must ensure that more aid flows into Gaza. Furthermore, it has been established that it is plausible that Israel is committing acts of genocide. There is an urgent need to protect the vulnerable, not exacerbate a humanitarian disaster.
During the past few months, my thoughts have often drifted to the sentiments of the poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, written in 1946:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemoller’s words ring true and are relevant today, reminding us that there is no place for moral apathy or silence in the face of injustice and cruelty. We have been warned about not letting history repeat itself, but here we are on a carousel that no-one seems willing or able to stop.
Now, more than ever, is the time to realign our moral compass and demand an immediate end to the onslaught against civilians in Gaza. Governments must end their ideological and financial support for Israel, particularly in terms of military aid. If we continue to ignore violations of international humanitarian law, we will be complicit in one of the most egregious catastrophes of modern history. That history will not be kind to those with blood on their hands.
The world order is shifting, but what is clear is that the region is drifting further away from a peaceful equilibrium. The seismic aftermath of this war on Gaza will be felt for decades. I implore all people of good faith to continue to advocate for a ceasefire to put an end to human tragedies like that which befell the innocent Hind Rajab, whose life was cut short in the most brutal manner and the health workers who met their untimely demise whilst trying to save her. Our eyes and hearts are bleary from far too much carnage. Now is the time to change the course of history whilst a glimmer of hope remains.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.