This Article was created by the team Law for Palestine and was curated by Slingshot Media’s advocacy team
We, the organisations of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), Al-Haq, Al-Mezan Center for Human Right,s Community Action Center – Al-Quds University, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) and Law for Palestine, raise serious alarm regarding the ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza as part of the Israeli leadership’s stated intent to commit genocide.
Omer Bartov, one of the top scholars on holocaust and genocide studies warned that forced displacement and ethnic cleansing usually precede genocide. Similarly, 36 UN independent experts have pointed to forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza as one of the main indicators for the “genocide in the making” in Gaza. William Schabas, the leading international law scholar on the crime of genocide stated in a legal opinion that indeed there is a serious risk Israel is committing the crime of genocide against the Palestinian population in Gaza. Another 880 international scholars, UN experts, as well as Palestinian human rights organizations have also warned of an unfolding genocide in Gaza.
According to UN OCHA, as of 23 November, more than 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are internally displaced, including over one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) staying in various UNRWA-run shelters. The actions on the ground, combined with the Israeli leadership’s explicit calls for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza and Defense Minister Gallant’s recent statement that once the ‘humanitarian pause’ is over, the Israeli army will resume intensive fighting for at least two more months, warn of either a possible mass deportation of Gaza’s civilian population into Egypt, or a permanent transfer of civilians from the north to the south of Gaza, both in clear violation of international law.
Since the beginning of its retaliatory military campaign on Gaza, the Israeli military has issued several ‘evacuation orders’ demanding Gaza residents to move from the north to the south of the Strip. Palestinian human rights organizations have categorically condemned such ‘evacuation orders’, describing them as ineffective, illegal, and essentially a tool for forcible transfer. Similar concerns have been raised by regional and international human rights groups. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also warned that Israel’s evacuation orders in Gaza trigger “catastrophic humanitarian consequences”.
As of 23 November, the Israeli military continued to pressure residents of northern Gaza to move south through a ‘corridor’ along Salah Al-Din Road, where Israeli forces have established checkpoints equipped with surveillance systems. In recent days, there have been many reported instances of violence by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians who were evacuating south via Salah Al-Din Road following Israeli instructions, including inhuman degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and killings.
While a time-limited ‘humanitarian pause’ is currently underway, the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza continues unabated. Israeli forces have dropped leaflets all across southern Gaza warning people not to return to their homes in the north during the pause. It has been reported that on 24 November, the Israeli military killed two Palestinians who were attempting to return to their homes in northern Gaza, while several more were injured. This policy, together with the systematic destruction and damage to civilian housing and infrastructure by Israeli forces, which has rendered Gaza’s northern towns, including Gaza city, uninhabitable, suggests the possibility of permanent displacement of civilians from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip.
With the ‘humanitarian pause’ in Gaza underway, it appears that Israel has no intention of allowing internally displaced Palestinians to return to their homes, and continues to limit access for humanitarian aid to reach people remaining in the north. Indeed, the aid that has finally reached northern Gaza during the ‘humanitarian pause’ is largely inadequate to the severity of the damage and destruction caused to civilian infrastructure by Israeli attacks, especially to hospitals, and the humanitarian plight suffered by thousands of civilians who remained there.
Due to the restrictions on freedom of movement in, out, and within the Gaza Strip that affect everyone, including journalists, the lack of thorough reporting on the conditions of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who remain in the north—including people with disabilities, patients and the wounded, medical personnel, pregnant women, children and the elderly—is also a matter of particular alarm. As we write, aid entry to Gaza is allowed only through Rafah crossing, in the south. Kerem Shalom, the largest and best-equipped crossing point between Gaza and Israel near the Egyptian border, remains closed since 5 October. Israeli authorities have reportedly rejected calls to make Kerem Shalom operational to increase the entry of humanitarian aid.
The forced displacement and denial of return of IDPs are violations of international law that must be remedied by allowing IDPs safe return to their homes at once. Forced displacement is also one of many international crimes currently committed by Israeli authorities and military forces in Gaza. Indeed, the forced displacement of people from one area to another, through expulsion or coercive acts, even within the same territory, can be considered a crime against humanity set out under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
As noted above, Israel’s ‘evacuation orders’ may in and of themselves be illegal and violate international humanitarian law. The appalling conditions of shelters in the south, including overcrowding, the spread of diseases exacerbated by the lack of WASH facilities, grossly insufficient food, drinking water and medication, and the ongoing severe threat of attack do not fulfill the conditions of safety for IDPs.
One of the elements of the crime of forced displacement as a crime against humanity is that it is a “part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” The forced displacement we are currently witnessing in Gaza is neither incidental nor limited to the current armed hostilities. Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter stated that, “[w]e are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba,” referring to the mass ethnic cleansing, permanent expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians carried out by Zionist militias and the Israeli army between 1947 and 1949, leading to the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians.
Coupled with the context of a deliberate policy of displacement and the denial of return, such acts of forcible transfer may even be considered as comprising genocidal intent and as a means to destroy the group. In Prosecutor v Popovic, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) explained that “forcible transfer” is a “relevant consideration when assessing genocidal intent”. In Prosecutor v Krstic, the ICTY considered that “forcible transfer could be an additional means by which to ensure the physical destruction of the Bosnian Muslim community in Srebrenica”.
It must be recalled that Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also currently being displaced: since 7 October, at least 143 Palestinian households comprising 1,014 Palestinians, have been displaced amid unprecedented settler violence and increased access restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities. Indeed, direct and indirect forced displacement of Palestinians throughout the entire occupied Palestinian territory cannot be isolated from the overall settler-colonial and apartheid regime imposed by Israel upon the Palestinian people as a whole.
Palestinians who became refugees as a result of the 1948 Nakba make up the great majority of the current residents of Gaza (77%), as well as being scattered around the globe due to Israel’s denial of their inalienable right to return. Israeli policies in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 have created coercive environments to force the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in what amounts to slow, yet deliberate ethnic cleansing. Israel’s ongoing illegal military occupation, apartheid, and forced displacement in Palestine are inherent to its settler-colonial enterprise, intended to destroy Palestinians as a group, in clear violation of the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and right to return.
In light of this, we urge the international community, especially the states mediating the truce, namely, Qatar, Egypt and USA to:
- Call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire;
- Intervene immediately to protect the Palestinian people against permanent forced displacement and destruction;
- Employ all diplomatic and political efforts to ensure that the mass forcible transfer of Gaza’s civilian population into Egypt does not materialize;
- Ensure the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons at the earliest possible stage, particularly to the north;
- Ensure that during truces, Palestinians will be allowed to move freely within the Gaza Strip, including towards their homes in the north of the Gaza Strip.