(Jerusalem) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli army and other officials to submit to the cabinet a plan to evacuate Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost governorate. Netanyahu said this action is necessary to attack Hamas battalions in the area.
With a pre-war population of 280,000, Rafah is now housing the majority of Gaza’s population, including most of the 1.7 million displaced Palestinians. Conditions are increasingly desperate, with people sheltering in makeshift camps—tents built with flimsy materials—and in overcrowded apartment buildings. Many have been displaced multiple times amid intense Israeli airstrikes and ground operations, as well as the continued blockade.
International humanitarian law prohibits the forced displacement of civilians except when temporarily required for their security or imperative military reasons. During the hostilities in Gaza, Human Rights Watch has warned that forced displacement, a war crime, is becoming more of a risk. Any forced displacement of the population would not relieve Israeli forces of their responsibility to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population. Civilians who do not evacuate following warnings are still fully protected by international humanitarian law. Many civilians may be unable to heed a warning to evacuate for reasons of health, disability, fear, or lack of any place else to go.
On January 26, the International Court of Justice ordered provisional measures in South Africa’s case alleging that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention, which require Israel to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance, and prevent and punish incitement to commit genocide.
The following statement can be attributed to Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Forcing the over one million displaced Palestinians in Rafah to again evacuate without a safe place to go would be unlawful and would have catastrophic consequences. There is nowhere safe to go in Gaza. The international community should take action to prevent further atrocities.”