OPINIONS

Thu 09 Nov 2023 7:00 am - Jerusalem Time

After the tragedy, the specter of another forced displacement looms

“Do you have water or bread?” Every child I met in Gaza last week asked me this question. I was the first high-ranking United Nations official to enter Gaza, since October 7, 2023. Over the course of more than 30 years of working in conflict zones, my encounters with children, women and men were in a shelter run by UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Palestine refugees) One of the saddest encounters during my work in the humanitarian field.


I met displaced Palestinians who took refuge in an UNRWA school in Rafah. I toured the school that had been turned into a shelter with a group of displaced people who showed me the damage caused by the bombing that killed and injured people. As I listened to their stories, I had to constantly remind myself that we were in a school – a place dedicated to learning, laughter and play. Instead, I was in unimaginable distress and appalling living conditions. I could not answer a very basic question from the frightened, hungry and thirsty children; Did I have water and food to give them?


There are more than 700,000 people now living in about 150 UNRWA buildings in the Gaza Strip, who just want a piece of bread and a sip of water. Civilians who took refuge in UNRWA shelters and believed in the power of the UN Blue Flag had to struggle with destruction and death, rather than feeling reassured in the safety of international protection.


At the time I write these lines, 99 of my colleagues at UNRWA have been killed, while nearly 50 of the agency’s buildings have been damaged, some of them directly hit. Since October 7, the death toll has reached more than 10,000 people, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, including more than 4,000 children. This is more than the number of children killed in all conflicts around the world in any year since 2019.


Outside the shelter I visited, the world became very dark for the people of Gaza; Due to the ongoing siege, there is no food, water, medicine or fuel. The markets are almost empty. The meager aid arriving by truck through Rafah falls far short of what is needed. Municipal services collapse under the weight of a month of conflict, sewage fills the streets, and people line up for hours in front of bakeries, gripped by anxiety. Scenes of chaos reflect the despair of this long wait. Soon, winter will come to Gaza, and many women, children and the elderly may die.


In isolation from the raging and debilitating conflict, an active process is underway in some circles to dehumanize an entire civilian population, including the children of Gaza, and paint them all as terrorists. This is a tactic that attempts to justify the massive damage done to them, ignoring the death of dozens of civilians, then describing it as collateral damage. Some politicians describe Gazans as “terrorists,” “human animals,” and “people who must be erased.” These are words that should be extinguished and not allowed to be used in the 21st century.


It is right that we express our outrage at the horrific massacre committed in Israel. No civilian should be taken hostage and become a bargaining chip. But a blanket accusation of all Gazans to justify violations of international humanitarian law is irresponsible and disingenuous. It strips away the international community's clear attempts to assert that all wars have limits.


Expanding the scope of collective punishment of all civilians in Gaza to include the West Bank, where Palestinian farming communities have been forced to abandon their homes and lands for no reason other than that they are Palestinian, threatens to push the region into the abyss. The war in Gaza could inflame the entire region.


As I write this article, Israeli forces are directing those who remain in the northern Gaza Strip, often the most vulnerable and unable to move for their safety, to the southern parts, while bombing and strikes continue to kill people, leaving the south unprotected. Safe as the North.


What will be the future of more than two million Palestinians trapped and detained in a small area in southern Gaza? They were even asked to move to the southwest...to areas where they were told the United Nations would give them water and food. This should not happen.


For many Palestinians and experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this exodus is reminiscent of the original displacement of some 750,000 people from their towns and villages in 1948; The Nakba. This week, many Israeli politicians were not shy about calling for another Nakba, something that touched a sensitive nerve in the region.


Current measures will not achieve the peace and stability that Israelis and Palestinians want and deserve. Leveling entire neighborhoods to the ground, over the heads of their residents, is not the solution to the horrific crimes committed by Hamas. On the contrary, it will open a very dark chapter in the history of the region.


The ICC has jurisdiction and must investigate and adjudicate evidence of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide on both sides, and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.


Until that happens, we must work to contain what is happening without delay. The humanitarian ceasefire must be activated immediately, the blockade imposed on Gaza must be ended, and continuous and meaningful humanitarian aid must be allowed to flow into the Gaza Strip without restrictions. These urgent measures are not only fair and appropriate for civilians in Gaza, but also for civilians in Israel.


The children killed in Gaza were not “terrorists,” “human animals,” or “people to be erased.” Like all children, they were full of life. They had dreams and aspirations. This massacre must stop. It's our last chance to save what's left of our humanity.

Al-sharq Alawsat

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After the tragedy, the specter of another forced displacement looms