‘Israel has already carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war.’Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967
By the Labour Outlook team
The escalation of Israeli actions on Palestinian civilins in Gaza in the days following the recent Hamas attack in Southern Israel has been the subject of growing alarm from a range of United Nations and humanitarian organisations, who have warned against ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza.
Israeli actions have included the closure of border crossings to specifically prevent supply of food, fuel and water, during which time it has increased air strikes on Gaza. Subsequently it has ordered a civilian evacuation of northern Gaza ahead of a widely-expected military ground offensive.
The immediate response to the Hamas attack by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was to announce, on 9th October,
‘I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.’
Subsequently, on 13th October, the Israeli Defence Force called for,
‘The evacuation of all civilians of Gaza City from their homes southwards.’
The order, which has been widely described as impacting over 1 million Palestinians, on top of the ‘complete siege’ conditions, has resulted in increasing warnings from the UN and its agencies that Israel’s actions amount to collective punishment and breach international humanitarian law.
The UN has called for the evacuation order to be rescinded whilst a key UN Special Rapporteur has warned that Palestinian civilians in Gaza are now facing ethnic cleansing.
In response to the evacuation order, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ made clear his concern, stating,
‘It is impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences and appeals for the order to be rescinded.’
Amplifying the Secretary General’s remarks, Paula Gaviria Betancur, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said,
‘Forcible population transfers constitute a crime against humanity, and collective punishment is prohibited under international humanitarian law.’
‘We are horrified at the prospect of an additional 1 million Palestinians joining the over 423,000 people already forcibly driven from their homes by the violence over the past week.
‘It is inconceivable that more than half of Gaza’s population could traverse an active war zone, without devastating humanitarian consequences, particularly while deprived of essential supplies and basic services.’
Perhaps the strongest criticism of the evacuation order came from Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967.
She warned that Palestinians in Gaza were facing ethnic cleansing and demanded the international community enforce a ceasefire.
‘Israel has already carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war. Again, in the name of self-defence, Israel is seeking to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing.
‘Any continued military operations by Israel have gone well beyond the limits of international law. The international community must stop these egregious violations of international law now, before tragic history is repeated. Time is of the essence. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve to live in peace, equality of rights, dignity and freedom.’
URGENT- Mass forced displacement of Palestinians has occurred in 1947/49 and 1967, and continued ever since, in less visible but not less painful forms. This time it risks to be as cruel as ever, under our watch, with some member states even risking to enable it. #CeasefireNow. https://t.co/F4oZrI8AHf— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) October 14, 2023
‘strongly condemns Israel’s repeated orders for the evacuation of 22 hospitals treating more than 2000 inpatients in northern Gaza. The forced evacuation of patients and health workers will further worsen the current humanitarian and public health catastrophe.’
In addition, it said,
‘There are verified reports of deaths of health care workers and destruction of health facilities, which denies civilians the basic human right of life-saving health care and is prohibited under International Humanitarian Law. ‘
‘WHO calls for Israel to immediately reverse evacuation orders to hospitals in northern Gaza, and calls for the protection of health facilities, health workers, patients and civilians.’
Humanitarian organisations operating in Gaza have echoed the concerns of the UN.
‘The world can see that this evacuation order is both utterly inhumane and impossible; the Israeli government must rescind it immediately. It is incumbent upon Israel to obey international humanitarian law; they must distinguish between military and civilian targets. We call on it to immediately recall this order and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.’
‘If Palestinians cannot flee, or refuse to flee, they remain civilians and do not become legitimate military targets.’
It’s Chief Executive Officer, Melanie Ward, said,
‘The international community must immediately demand that Israel rescind its warning and ensure Palestinian civilians are protected from attack. They should remember their Responsibility to Protect against atrocity crimes, including ethnic cleansing.’
The Palestine Red Crescent Society, said it had been commanded by Israeli forces to evacuate its Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City, to which it had said it cannot evacuate the hospital, identifying in particular those patients in its intensive care facilities.
As parliament returns from a conference recess today, UK Ministers must heed these calls of the UN and international humanitarian organisations. The urgent humanitarian crisis in Gaza requires an immediate ceasefire, a reversal of the displacement order, and an end to the siege to let in vital fuel, electricity, water, and food and medical supplies.