On October 12, after days of bombardments, the Israeli government ordered 1.1 million Palestinians living in the north of the Gaza Strip, which includes Gaza City, the most populated urban area, to move to the south of the besieged territory. It promised that for a 24-hour window, the roads would be safe for those wanting to flee the impending ground invasion. Many began to move towards the south immediately on foot, others climbed onto trucks and the “lucky ones” packed up their cars.
Israel has been bombing the roads in the northern part of the Strip for days, making any evacuation attempt slow and arduous. Worse yet, there were reports of the Israeli government breaking its promise and targeting convoys moving towards the south. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, an Israeli strike on the Salah al-Din Road, a main thoroughfare in the overcrowded territory temporarily declared “safe” by the Israeli military, killed 70 people attempting to flee towards the south on October 13.
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In the end, many have evacuated, but many more have not been able to. Some are not in a condition to move, either because of disabilities or injuries. In several hospitals, doctors and nurses are refusing to leave behind their immovable patients. There are also others who are refusing to leave because they fear permanent exile.
The trauma of Nakba in 1948, where 750,000 Palestinians were permanently exiled from their homes, has never left Palestinians. This feeling is especially palpable among Palestinians in Gaza, the majority of whom are from families displaced in 1948.
The Israeli government knows this. It also knows that moving 1.1 million people in a space like Gaza, in a matter of hours, is logistically impossible. But the evacuation order serves its purpose – it provides cover for the Israeli government to commit mass atrocities by using the age-old fallacy that Hamas is using human shields.
International agencies have made it clear that the evacuation order does not absolve the Israeli government of its obligations and responsibilities under international humanitarian law, and have called on Israel’s leaders to rescind the order. On its part, however, the Israeli government has not made a huge effort to hide the fact that this evacuation order or its wider plans for Gaza is an attempt at ethnic cleansing. Various Israeli ministers and politicians have called for the wiping out of Gaza over the past week, using dehumanising language. Israel’s defence minister even called Palestinians in Gaza “human animals”.
Meanwhile, the United States is pushing Egypt to allow for a humanitarian corridor between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula through the Rafah border crossing. While it is imperative that all efforts are made to help people escape the bombardment, and for aid to be delivered, the fear is that anyone who is made to leave Gaza now may end up being permanently exiled. This is not an irrational fear – it is something which has been happening continuously throughout Palestinian history. Indeed, the Israeli government has persistently ignored various international conventions establishing the rights of refugees, including those that ascertain their right to return home. It is estimated that more than seven million Palestinians are currently living in permanent exile and not allowed to return to – and in many cases even visit – their homeland.
As Palestinians in northern Gaza make the impossible decision of whether to stay in their homes or risk attempting to evacuate, the Israeli government is preparing for a ground invasion. Hundreds of Israeli tanks have been moved to the Israeli fence that has caged Palestinians in Gaza in for so long.
Meanwhile, Israeli politicians and army generals are whipping up a rhetorical frenzy. They even brought in an Israeli war criminal, who was involved in the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre, to raise the morale among soldiers. He told them to “erase the memory of them … Erase them, their families, mothers and children. These animals can no longer live.”
Everything is telling us that the invasion is going to be ruthless. The pretext of wanting to wipe out the “top political and military leadership of Hamas” is just that – a pretext. The invasion will provide the Israeli government with an opportunity to take the northern part of Gaza and push Palestinians into a smaller prison or, for many thousands, beyond the borders of Gaza. Whichever way you look at it, the situation can only be described as ethnic cleansing and continuation of the Nakba that began in 1948.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.