Fact or fiction? Israel’s evacuation plan for the Palestinians in Rafah

Israel does not intend to ‘evacuate’ Palestinians from Rafah to safety. It seeks to kill or deport them.

a crater next to tents
Palestinians stand around a crater caused by an Israeli bombardment in Rafah on February 12, 2024 [Said Khatib/AFP]

On Sunday, ahead of a planned Israeli invasion of Rafah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview to ABC, a TV channel in the United States. He addressed warnings by Western officials, including Americans, that this would result in a high civilian death toll.

“We are going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” Netanyahu said.

Asked by host Jonathan Karl where 1.4 million Palestinians are supposed to go, he responded: “The areas that we have cleared north of Rafah, there are plenty of areas there, but we are working out a detailed plan to do so.”

Netanyahu sounded unconvinced by his own words.

A day earlier, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy spoke to London-based LBC radio and also sounded rather unconvincing. When asked by host Matt Frei four times where the Palestinians in Rafah are supposed to go, Levy could not respond. All he could muster was: “Well, there are open areas in the Gaza Strip. And one option is for UN agencies to work together with us on evacuating civilians to open areas.” The question where those open areas are remained unanswered.

The reason why Netanyahu and Levy cannot respond to a simple question is because they both know the Israeli army does not intend to protect Palestinians, as it hasn’t up until now. They know that nowhere has been safe for Palestinians and nowhere will be safe for them when the invasion of Rafah starts. They also know that ultimately, Israel is aiming to expel the Palestinians from Gaza, not to keep them there.

No safe place in Gaza

Since the start of this Israeli war on Gaza, the Israeli government has upped the ante on misinformation. Nowhere has this been more evident than in claims that the Israeli army is creating “safe passage” for the people of Gaza or is trying to protect them.

The past four deadly months provide plenty of evidence.

First, Israel told the people of Gaza that the south would be safe. When they started evacuating, they were bombed on the way in their civilian convoys. They were also bombed when they arrived. When civilians were not bombed on “safe evacuation routes”, they were shot at by snipers or detained and forcibly disappeared.

When the Israeli army invaded the previous “safe zone” of Khan Younis, it told civilians to stay put in hospitals and shelters. Its snipers shot people trying to reach hospitals and shelters and then bombed them.

When the Israeli army told Palestinians to leave Khan Younis, it targeted them while they were fleeing.

Some Palestinians made it to Rafah, another “safe zone”, only to be told that it is no longer safe. Now people are being told to flee Rafah to “open areas”. Other “open areas”, such as Mawasi, where people were previously told to go have been repeatedly targeted.

Throughout this process of telling people to evacuate only to kill them, the Israeli army and government kept making announcements in English and giving interviews to Western media claiming it was taking measures to “protect civilians”. Whether it was unsafe “evacuation routes” or confusing “evacuation maps”, they did what they could to cover up the truth that there are no safe places in Gaza.

They continued to peddle the lie even after United Nations agencies and international organisations – such as Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), Amnesty International, etc – all agreed there is no safe place in Gaza.

Even Western media – including The New Yorker, Time magazine and Deutsche Welle – started seeing through Israeli disinformation and reported the reality that there is no safe place in Gaza.

Should the same army that killed more than 28,000 Palestinians and destroyed or damaged more than 60 percent of homes in Gaza be trusted to offer “safe passage” now?

Schrodinger’s Hamas

In the past, as in this war, Israel has repeatedly blamed the killings of civilians on Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. It has repeatedly claimed that Palestinian fighters and their commanders use the civilian population as “human shields”.

But these claims do not quite add up with the data that the Israeli military itself has released. In January, Israel claimed that it had killed 10,000 Palestinian fighters (9,000 in Gaza and 1,000 inside Israel), wounded 8,000, arrested 2,300 and eliminated two-thirds of Hamas’s regiments. It has also said it has “struck” 30,000 targets in Gaza.

If the Israeli army – the most moral in the world per its own evaluation – “strikes” only military targets, one would have thought that at least 30,000 fighters would have been killed or wounded.

And if we go by Netanyahu’s claim that for one Palestinian civilian killed, one Palestinian fighter has been eliminated, then we get a death toll that the Israeli intelligence would reject. (The latter apparently has been using internally the Gaza Ministry of Health’s numbers, which the Israeli government repeatedly has called to question.)

In other words, Israeli army data confirm that it is striking civilian targets and Netanyahu is lying about the civilian-military death ratio in Gaza.

But there is another contradiction in the official Israeli narrative that these data are revealing.

Hamas, by Israeli estimates, had at least 30,000 fighters before the war. If we are to believe the Israeli army claims that it has cleared Hamas from the areas it has invaded in the Gaza Strip and that Rafah is the “last Hamas stronghold”, that means at least 10,000 were in Rafah in January when Palestinians were still being told this city was a safe zone.

If, as Israel likes to claim, Hamas uses human shields, then Israel is simply admitting that it is pushing the civilian population into areas where they will be targeted because Hamas is there.

It turns out, in this war on reality, that Israel can simultaneously say that they are evacuating civilians to safety while saying Hamas uses them as human shields. Somehow, Hamas is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Beneath these lies is the formula for the real truth that Israel operates by: Where Hamas goes, civilians go, where civilians go, Hamas goes. To defeat Hamas, we must also remove civilians.

‘Nakba is safety’

It is no secret that the Israeli government has been planning and lobbying to have Palestinians expelled to the Sinai Peninsula. As early as late October, a document from Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence emerged in which the deportation of the Palestinian population of Gaza to Egyptian territory was clearly outlined.

Netanyahu was quick to dismiss the document as a “concept paper” and downplay its contents. But one has to wonder what he was thinking of when he stumbled on the words “plenty of areas” in the ABC interview. Could it be the real estate plans that are being drawn up for development of new Jewish settlements in eviscerated Gaza or the conference his ministers attended calling for Israeli resettlement of the strip?

Over the past four months, more than two million Palestinians have been squeezed farther and farther south closer to Egypt. Meanwhile, the “safety” and “evacuation” rhetoric of the Israeli army and government has served as a convenient cover for where this is going.

Israel’s evacuation orders have been a performance for the international community to try to demonstrate that Israel is complying with its obligations under international law.

The same is true of their evacuation maps, their leaflet drops, the “precision” strikes, the “safe zones”. These all form part of the “technologies of genocide” designed to make another Nakba easier for Israel and more palatable for Israel’s allies and the international community.

Indeed, they are part of the window dressing that helps US President Joe Biden trivialise Israel’s genocidal campaign as “a bit over the top”.

In the war on reality, truth falls victim to political ideology, and disinformation conflicts with other disinformation.

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Add to this quote from George Orwell’s classic 1984, “Nakba is safety”, for that is the reality that has been foisted upon Palestinians in Gaza.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.