Humanitarian Situation in Gaza is Worsening

Rafah Gaza 2

The serious humanitarian situation in Gaza has been at the center-stage of worldwide concerns for several months now. Many senior leaders of world and top UN officials have been repeatedly expressing deep concern and people, particularly youth, have organized many protest actions, increasingly also in the USA and other western countries. Despite all this, the latest news clearly indicates that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is worsening further, not improving.

The situation on May 13 was of Israeli forces making deeper inroads into Gaza in both the south and north of the small region, and making air strikes in both parts in areas of dense, unprotected civilian population, aggravating the distress, danger and fears of several hundred thousand people already suffering from a grave humanitarian crisis. This has happened despite several calls for restraint from some of the topmost UN officials.

Earlier attention was mostly focused on preventing the deepening and worsening of the assault on Rafah which had already started despite so many efforts having been made to prevent further risks for nearly 1.4 million people living in most vulnerable and exposed conditions in what was being repeatedly described as the last refuge (close to Egyptian border) of some of the most badly threatened people many of whom had just faced mass displacement.

Despite many international calls for avoiding assault on Rafah, Israel went ahead with several air-strikes and issued orders for mass evacuations first to eastern and central parts of the city. As a result nearly 360,000 people have been forced to move away again from ‘the last refuge’ during the last week. How many displacements can women and children endure within just a few days and that too in highly risky situations, with no safety guaranteed either in their travel or in the new settlement? However such is the increasing threat from repeated airstrikes and the advancing tanks that large numbers of people have no choice but to leave.

While the world’s attention was focused mostly on Rafah for several days, on May 13 concerns spread over a wider area as Israeli forces pushed deep into the northern parts of Gaza, targeting in particular the huge shelter camp of Jabalia, the biggest of the 8 camps created about 75 years ago to shelter Palestinian refugees. News reports have quoted residents as stating that tank shells had hit the camp and air strikes had destroyed clusters of houses. 20 people died in airstrikes and many more were injured.

Thus it is very clear that just now the situation both in the north and south of Gaza is worsening. In the middle of all this, where are the peace negotiations about which we had heard so much till very recently and regarding which the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had stated that these were based on a very generous offer on the part of Israel? One has not seen any signs of such generosity so far. One cannot go for peace negotiations while throwing bombs all around, using tanks and fighter planes. Another peculiarity of these peace negotiations has been their non-transparency. Hence while highly placed diplomats of several countries are reported to be involved in them constantly for several days, we really do not come to know what exactly they are trying to achieve and who is responsible for a peace deal not being clinched.

The statements coming from named and unnamed sources on these efforts are often very vague and can be interpreted in hopeful as well as disappointing ways. Similarly the recent statements of President Biden which were apparently meant to assure domestic and international opinion that Israel will not get US weapons for Rafah assault were actually very vague. These do not tell, for instance, if Israel has already been given so much ammunition and weapons that these will be adequate for the assault regardless of any temporary stoppage of supplies from the USA, even if this takes effect.

Egypt, one of the leading countries involved in peace negotiations, stated on May 12 that it would intervene in support of South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. A statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry stated, “The announcement of the intervention in this case comes in light of the expansion in scope and scale of Israeli violations against civilians in Gaza.”

The fact that such a statement has been made officially by a country that has been so involved in peace negotiations speaks volumes for Egypt’s growing disappointment with Israeli attitudes to peace efforts.

Meanwhile, on May 10, South Africa had asked the International Court of Justice to order Israel to withdraw from Rafah, as part of additional emergency measures in its ongoing case.

Keeping in view the growing seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, international peace efforts and people’s movements should focus just now on the key demands of immediate ceasefire and huge increase of relief effort, accompanied by release of hostages. Complete focus should be on this, other things can wait. Needlessly provocative slogans which can increase misunderstandings should be avoided.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.                  

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