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Carnage in Rafah

Palestinians search for food among burnt debris in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced people, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024.
Image: REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

We deserve a better death.

Our bodies are disfigured and twisted,

embroidered with bullets and shrapnel. 

Our names are pronounced incorrectly 

On the radio and TV. 

Our photos, plastered onto the walls of our building,

fade and grow pale.

The inscriptions on our gravestones disappear,

covered in the faeces of birds and reptiles.

No one waters the trees that give shade

to our graves.

The blazing sun has overwhelmed 

our rotting bodies.

Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet

Over the past days, Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, has become the epicentre of a deepening humanitarian catastrophe. The relentless bombardment by Israeli forces, the forcible displacement of civilians, and the dire shortage of essential aid supplies have created an environment where survival is a daily struggle for Palestinians. With the International Court of Justice’s legally binding order to halt Israeli operations in Rafah being overlooked, and Israel continuing its intense bombardment in Rafah, individuals around the world stand together calling for a ceasefire and immediate international intervention. 

Rafah, already strained by an influx of displaced individuals from other parts of Gaza, now faces intensified Israeli military operations. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has condemned these actions as inhumane and contrary to international humanitarian law​​. Overnight, at least 45 Palestinians, primarily women and children, were killed in airstrikes launched into Rafah. With two critical crossings into Rafah sealed, the flow of humanitarian aid had been entirely halted until recently, exacerbating an already dire situation. 

As a response to the global outrage, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called the death of the Palestinian refugees “a regrettable mistake,” similar to how various past atrocities were excused under the guise of a mistake. Civilians remain trapped under burning tents as the death toll is expected to increase over the next few days. Palestinian-American activist Noura Erakat expressed the mercilessness of the attacks and the lack of action taken to prevent such atrocities on social media, stating “How do I explain that burning children alive in tents is bad? Who does not know that? What is this system we’ve built that has normalized advanced tech barbarism and dares to lecture us?” 

Having been directed towards Rafah as a designated evacuation zone by the Israeli military, displaced Palestinians in Rafah were trapped in the encampment with no safe space left in Gaza, as Israel commenced its entry into Rafah with airstrikes. Over 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7th, with over 46 killed in the bombardment that followed the ICJ’s orders to stop Israeli military action in Rafah. Having entered Rafah, the Israeli military took control of all surrounding regions including the borders and crossing connecting Egypt and Gaza. A fresh set of airstrikes on Tuesday, 28th May have claimed the lives of another 21 Palestinians. 

Over 800,000 Palestinians have been displaced from Rafah. As fires spread across the encampment, Palestinian Civil Defence Officer Dr Muhammed al-Mughayer shared the gravity of the attack, “The fires were very big, and they were spreading all over the place.” As rescue missions were underway, numerous bodies with severed limbs and other charred remains were retrieved.

Journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote on X (formerly Twitter), “There are videos coming out of Rafah today of beheaded babies. Actual beheaded babies that you can see for yourself,” expressing the grim reality unfolding in Rafah. Though vital aid supplies have resumed entry into Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing between Egypt and Gaza, all aid is inspected and checked by Israeli authorities, and distributed by the UN. This comes after the US and Egyptian governments worked towards a deal to make up for Cairo’s refraining from delivering aid through Rafah. 

With an estimated 200 aid trucks entering Gaza in the last week, the UN states that aid is still falling short as the minimum requirement is 500-600 trucks to feed the thousands of displaced Palestinians.

In April 2024, the agonising discovery of mass graves within Gaza’s hospitals drew the spotlight to the extent of the ongoing humanitarian calamity. With more than 300 dead bodies unearthed, including those of women, children and the elderly, each corpse indicated harrowing signs of torture and ill-treatment, some with medical tubes attached, suggesting they were buried alive. The graves located in Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals were a clear indication of the extensive brutality and barbaric reality.

Following an international trial initiated by South Africa at the International Court of Justice, which yielded limited results, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, announced plans to issue arrest warrants against several key figures. These include Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh. The warrants are based on accusations of crimes against humanity and war crimes linked to the October 7th attack on Israel and the subsequent conflict in Gaza.      

Countries including the US, UK, France, and Germany have all released statements condemning the Israeli attacks in Rafah, but their governments continue to refrain from directly commenting, interfering, or condemning Israel’s larger military operations and war in Gaza, focusing on Israel’s right to protect itself. These governments have also been condemned for their constant funding of Israel through monetary and military means. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently came under scrutiny at a gathering in Berlin for continuously supplying Israel with weapons and ammunition. Turkey and Egypt have also expressed their concerns, calling for the protection of civilians and adherence to international humanitarian law. Alongside growing international pressure on Israel, South Africa had further urged the UN courts to order an immediate halt on attacks in Rafah as part of its existing case against Israel at the ICJ. 

On Tuesday, 28th May, Ireland, Norway, and Spain released official statements recognising the Palestinian state, extending their support in achieving a two-state solution and an end to the hostilities. Additionally, EU foreign affairs ministers have also approved the reactivation of an EU border mission in Rafah, under the leadership of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell. In response to the recognition of Palestinian statehood, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a diplomatic note to the Spanish Embassy in Jerusalem, prohibiting them from conducting any consular activities or providing services to Palestinian citizens. Similar orders are expected to reach the Norwegian and Irish authorities as well. 

Protests around the world have erupted in response to Israeli offences in Gaza. With students hosting gatherings, walk-outs and marches in universities in the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and more, the international community is pushing for an immediate halt and extensive consequences for the oppressors. 

Mass arrests and police crackdowns on the protesting students across the US have resulted in intensified anger and discontent towards the government, its alliance with Israel, and all the institutional support the entire country provides Israel with. Voters in the US have also intensified their concerns, raising questions about President Biden’s approach to the conflict, potentially impacting his chances in the upcoming November presidential elections.

Mohammed Abdel Fattah, a Palestinian-American ICU doctor serving as a volunteer at a Khan Younis hospital near the Rafah evacuation zone, stated in an interview with Zeteo News, “My message to the President is that for me as an American, I’ve had hope for 6-7 months that he would end this, but I see him for who he is now. He is ok with killing. He is ok with the children being massacred every night, and it's clear. And come November we will remember. We’re not going to forget and Joe Biden will be a one-term President.” 

Worries surrounding the truce deal between Israel and Hamas have also increased with the escalation of the conflict and continuous bombardment. On 6th May 2024, Hamas relayed its acceptance of a ceasefire proposal to the Qatari Prime Minister and Egyptian intelligence chief, suggesting that they would halt all hostile activity, should their conditions be met. The plan included a two-phase approach and a gradual dismantling of the Israeli military in Gaza, followed by a calm and complete lifting of the blockades around Gaza. The deal was rejected by Israel which continued its relentless bombardment and airstrikes. Israel was later seen initiating new negotiations, which were rejected by Hamas, who demanded a ceasefire rather than a new round of discussions. 

Social media has been a key tool in spreading the momentum of protests worldwide. With users sharing videos, information, updates, and resources, platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and X have become discussion forums where people are raising questions and holding leaders accountable for their choices and actions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As of this week, the phrase “All Eyes on Rafah” has become a global effort to bring attention to Rafah, and the greater genocide in Gaza.

“I can’t stop thinking about how many Palestinians are forcing themselves to watch those harrowing videos coming out of Rafah tonight to see if they can spot any of their loved ones in the footage, to check if they’re alive or not,” a user wrote on X. As Israel strategically cut all internet, electricity and communication lines, authorities continued to share announcements on social media, knowing that it would not reach the isolated Palestinian population in time. Social media users around the world have used their platforms to share information and alerts, hoping to make a difference, hoping to make some noise. 

As a retaliation to Israel’s continued bombing, despite the ICJ orders, Hamas released an official statement, announcing its launch of a “major rocket attack” on Tel Aviv. This is the first major attack on Israel in months. Israeli authorities stated that eight rockets were fired from Rafah into central Israel, however, no casualties were reported. Israeli media published statements by officials claiming their bombardment in Rafah was targeted and strategic in eradicating Hamas militants, in alignment with international law. However, various journalists and civil groups have brought attention to treaties and conventions such as the Geneva Convention, asking questions about the selective applicability of international law, and the negligence of international authorities. 

Special Correspondent for PBS, Leila Molana-Allen, on X, described the gravity of the Israeli attacks in Rafah, explaining that the location bombed was a designated humanitarian, safety, and evacuation zone near the UN aid warehouses, as described by Israel who guided displaced Gazans to evacuate into it. The conceited nature of this evacuation, attack and lack of clarity is how the Israeli military continues to sustain its war on Gaza, as the international community does little to stop it. 

Moving forward, as updates continue to reach the world through news outlets and social media, Palestinians continue to burn under the fires of hatred. Israel’s genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rafah and greater Gaza is a relentless onslaught of terror, deprivation and despair. As exhausted Palestinians continue to get displaced for the sixth, seventh or eighth time in the last nine months, the invasion of Rafah continues to wrongfully take away the lives of innocent children and others. As the spirit of the Gazan community continues to shatter, hope for a peaceful resolution and adequate justice remains high, mounting pressure on the top international courts to fulfil their duty and do their designated jobs. 

Allies of Israel, including the US, after it sanctioned its largest military aid package to Israel, also stand at the threshold of monumental change, with people around the world holding it accountable, unwilling to let go of their participation in the heinous crime against humanity. As the promise of “Never Again” now only exudes hypocrisy, the ongoing catastrophe in Gaza serves as a stark reminder of the power of hatred, and the failure of the larger international system we live in.


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