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Bahbah: Genocide in Gaza Before the Eyes of the World

posted on: Oct 18, 2023

Genocide in Gaza Before the Eyes of the World
Destruction of Gaza in 2023. Wiki Commons.

By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist

The October 7th surprise and massive attack on Israel by Hamas militants resulted in the tragic, violent death of hundreds of innocent civilians at a scope that Israel has not witnessed in its 75 years of existence.  In retaliation, Israel has unleashed its sophisticated and well-equipped war machinery against Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other fighters are hunkered in their underground bunkers away from the beleaguered civilians.  To punish Hamas, Israel is relentlessly punishing Gaza’s 2.2 million Palestinians – two-thirds of them are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine. 

The world is witnessing a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions among Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. On the one hand, there has been a tremendous outpour of sympathy for Israel, including the unprecedented visit of U.S. President Joe Biden and the German chancellor and other European heads of state to Israel. On the other hand, the Palestinians cannot even get food, water, medical, and fuel supplies into Gaza because of Israeli refusal.

No one can minimize the gravity of the human loss among Israeli civilians caused by Hamas’ attack. However, Israel’s ensuing collective punishment of Gaza’s population blatantly violates international law and the Geneva Convention regulating combatants’ conduct in war zones. Israel intends to avenge Hamas’ attack by taking it out on Gaza’s civilian population.

Genocide in Gaza Before the Eyes of the World
Palestine flags. Credit: Wiki Commons.

Palestinians – the “Human Animals”

Shortly after Hamas attacked Israel, the Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, declared, “We are fighting human animals [emphasis added], and we are acting accordingly.” 

Gallant ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip and announced that “Palestinians would be deprived of food, electricity, and fuel.” He stressed, “Everything is closed.” 

With this Israeli mindset embraced by its defense minister and expanded war cabinet, Israel has embarked on actions that violate international law and could be viewed as “crimes against humanity.” 

These actions have included cutting off food supplies, water, and electricity to the entire Gaza Strip; relentlessly bombarding Gaza and inflicting immense damage to its people and its already run-down infrastructure; ordering the forcible evacuation of 1.1 million people from the northern to the southern half of Gaza; and ordering the evacuation of 21 Palestinian hospitals in the north half of Gaza. Israel has also effectively rendered Gaza’s only possible gateway to the world, the Rafah crossing with Egypt, practically inoperable. All these actions were taken in preparation for an anticipated massive ground invasion of Gaza.

  • Israel Cut Off the Entry of Food Supplies, Water, and Electricity to Gaza

Since half of Gaza’s 2.2 million people are children, most of those suffering from Israel’s military actions and blockade will be children, women, and the elderly. As of Monday, October 16, conditions in Gaza have deteriorated dangerously. There are severe shortages of clean water and food as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians attempt to flee the crippling airstrikes and an anticipated Israeli ground attack on Gaza.

Some hospital officials have announced that their electricity will only last a few hours. Babies and wounded civilians in the ICUs or on ventilators will undoubtedly die if the fuel supplies to Gaza’s only power plant are not immediately restored.  Israel has ceased providing electricity from its power grid to Gaza immediately following Hamas’ attack. 

On Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “We are on the verge of the abyss in the Middle East.” 

He appealed to both Israel and Hamas. He said, “To Hamas, the hostages must be released immediately without conditions. To Israel, rapid and unimpeded aid must be granted for humanitarian supplies and workers for the sake of the civilians in Gaza.” 

In the meantime, international aid groups have said that Gaza is suffering shortages of every kind, including body bags. Food stocks are dwindling fast, warned the World Food Program.

Even though Israel announced on October 15 that it has agreed to U.S. President Joe Biden’s request to return to supplying water to southern Gaza, there is no electricity to operate the water pumps. Hence, Gaza remains without drinking water or potable water. 

  • Israel is Relentlessly and Mercilessly Bombarding the Gaza Strip

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, as of Tuesday, in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, over 3,000 people have been killed in Gaza, including some 500 children. Over 10,000 Palestinians have been injured, while 1,500 Hamas fighters’ bodies are strewn in Israel, where the attacks occurred. Unfortunately, even before the ground Israeli ground assault began, civilian casualties have been mounting precipitously – several hundred in the past 24 hours.

Palestinians wounded in the conflict have nowhere to go for treatment. Israel has taken the extreme measure of ordering the evacuation of 21 hospitals in the northern part of the besieged Gaza Strip. 

The extent of this evolving calamity is astounding. Casualties in the besieged Gaza Strip during the first eight days of the current war have surpassed those killed during the 51-day Gaza-Israel confrontation in 2014.  The number of bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip in 24 hours – 6,000 in total – has exceeded the number of bombs used in the 2014 conflict.

Mai Alkaila, Palestine’s Health Minister, said Israeli troops have “deliberately bombed hospitals and ambulances, killing and injuring medical staff.” 

  • Israel has Ordered the Forcible Transfer of 1.1 Million Palestinian Civilians to the Southern Part of Gaza 

Israel claims that Hamas fighters are hiding in tunnels below ground, awaiting Israel’s land attack on the Gaza Strip. To decrease the number of Palestinian civilian casualties, Israel has taken it upon itself to order the evacuation of almost half of Gaza’s population, 1.1 million, into the southern part of the Gaza Strip. This number of people represents the equivalent of the population of Rhode Island.

When Gaza’s footprint is overlaid onto New York City, it covers an area roughly the size of Manhattan, the Bronx, Hoboken, and New Jersey. By comparison, the south of the Gaza Strip, where Israel ordered 1.1 million Palestinians to relocate forcibly, covers nearly all of Washington, D.C.

The forcible population transfer during an armed conflict is considered a war crime and against international law, including the Geneva Conventions that have laid out the “norms” of conduct between combatants during war. 

The World Health Organization has strongly condemned the forcible transfer of civilians in Gaza and has asked Israel to rescind its order. 

Despite Israel’s order to Gazans to move south of the Strip, Israel continued bombarding towns and areas in southern Gaza. If Palestinians were to flee, they were heading to another war zone, not to safety!

  • Israel Ordered the Evacuation of 21 Hospitals in Northern Gaza

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that Israel ordered that 21 hospitals in Gaza be evacuated. This decision cannot be taken lightly nor appropriately executed under normal circumstances, let alone during an active war in an area blockaded by air, land, and sea. 

News reports on Tuesday indicated that Israel attacked Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Al-Shifa is the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip. Israel claimed that at the time of the hospital bombing, rockets were being fired from Gaza, implying that Hamas rockets hit the hospital – the lamest possible Israel excuse.

Regarding Israel’s order to evacuate hospitals, the following should be pointed out: Firstly, evacuating 21 hospitals of their patients, especially those with critical injuries, is virtually impossible to execute in days. Secondly, no ambulances and personnel are available to transport these patients. Thirdly, doctors have already indicated that there is no way to safely transport many patients in the ICU and those using ventilators. Finally, and more importantly, the hospitals in the southern part of Gaza are already full and are without basic supplies such as medicine, food, clean water, and the electricity needed to light up the hospitals, the operating rooms, power the ventilators, and other critically needed medical equipment.

The WHO added, “Forced evacuation of hospitals may amount to a violation of International Humanitarian Law.” 

  • Israel has Blocked the Opening of the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt

Hundreds of trucks filled with food, medical supplies, generators, water, blankets, and tents have queued for days before the Rafah crossing, the only entry point to Gaza that Israel does not control. Arab and international donors have flown to Egypt ample supplies of emergency aid destined for Gaza. 

But so far, the crossing appears nonfunctional. Egypt says that airstrikes on the Gaza side have made roads inoperable. Jordan has said it has been seeking assurances that Israeli warplanes will not target aid convoys. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized, following his meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, that the United States is working with many parties to ensure that aid gets in and out of Gaza to people who need it.

El-Sissi emphasized to Blinken that Israel’s response to the deadly Hamas attack had exceeded “its right to self-defense.” He added that Israeli actions amount to “collective punishment of the Gaza Strip.” 

Another victim of the ongoing Hamas-Israel war has been the suspension of all activities by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Palestine. UNRWA has been the primary UN agency since 1950 that has provided education, health services, and other humanitarian aid to most of Gaza’s population.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said, “Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life.” He added that 14 UNRWA staff members have been killed, and most of their 13,000 staff in Gaza are displaced or out of their homes.

Genocide in Gaza Before the Eyes of the World
Protest in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Wiki Commons.

What Will Happen Next

No one can predict what will happen next. No one knows what the outcome of the land war on Gaza would be. No one knows whether Hezbollah will throw in its total weight once Israel’s ground offensive begins. 

It would not be a surprise if Iran decided to activate its surrogates in various parts of the Middle East to attack Israel in retaliation for its land offensive on Gaza. If Iran enters the fray, hell can break loose, and the entire region’s stability will be shaken to its foundation.

No matter who enters this war or who does not, the Palestine-Israel conflict has emerged once again as a critical element in the region’s stability. It has forced its way into the front and center of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. role is duplicitous. On one hand, the United States has been supplying Israel with arms and munitions for its onslaught on Gaza. On the other hand, it is organizing the efforts to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza. 

For the millionth time, peace in the Middle East can never be achieved without resolving the Palestine conflict. This must include establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

About the Author: Bishara A Bahbah is Arab America’s featured columnist. He is the former vice president of the US Palestine Council. Bahbah was the associate director of Harvard’s Middle East Institute. He taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was a teaching fellow at Harvard’s Departments of Government and Economics.

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