What fate for Rafah civilians as Israeli invasion looms?

As Israel presses toward an invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are trying to find shelter, the Israeli military says it plans to direct a "significant" number of them toward zones in the center of the Gaza Strip. Referring to the areas as "humanitarian islands," Israel's chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, did not provide details on how or when civilians would be moved when he made the March 13 announcement. Any Israeli invasion of Rafah could trigger an even larger humanitarian catastrophe in the densely crowded area, aid groups have warned for weeks.

Rafah is Gaza's main entry point for aid for its 2.3 million people, most of whom have been displaced by the Israeli bombardment and fighting that has killed some 31,341 Palestinians and wounded 73,134 in the past six months, according to health officials in the Strip. Aid groups say an invasion will complicate efforts to deliver humanitarian supplies, as people continue to suffer from disease and face starvation. Every person in Gaza has been at crisis levels of hunger for months, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) maintained by the Famine Eary Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). Children are dying from starvation, with the UN pointing to at least 20 such deaths this month. Others have died from severe malnutrition, dehydration, and related diseases, and there are critical shortages of drinking water.

Health officials in Gaza said 29 people were killed on March 14 in two separate Israeli attacks at aid distribution points—reports that Israel denied. Hamas, meanwhile, has offered a ceasefire proposal that includes releasing some Israeli hostages in exchange for more than 700 Palestinian prisoners—a proposal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said was based on "unrealistic demands."

From The New Humanitarian, March 15

Israeli forces raid Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital

The Israeli military says it has taken control of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City in what it called an operation to "thwart terrorist activity." It said troops killed 20 "terrorists," including a senior commander of Hamas' internal security force, and detained dozens of suspects during the raid.

Witnesses described heavy exchanges of fire around the site, where thousands of displaced people are sheltering. (BBC News)

Palestinian medical staff at Gaza's Nasser hospital told the BBC they were blindfolded, detained, forced to strip, and repeatedly beaten by Israeli troops after a raid at their hospital last month. (BBC News)

Israel requests ICJ reject additional measures for Gaza

Israel made a public request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), released March 18, to reject additional measures filed by South Africa to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza. Israel stated that South Africa "fundamentally" misrepresented the reality or situation on the ground, the root cause of the problems, and the efforts already undertaken to address issues.

Attorneys for Israel denied the "outrageous" accusations leveled by South Africa that Israel was manufacturing a health crisis and famine in Gaza. They pointed out the massive logistical challenges of delivering aid inside a war zone with insufficient infrastructure. Israel also accused Hamas of using a human shield strategy to attack Israel while disrupting assistance to Palestinian civilians. The request stated, "Israel has real concern for the humanitarian situation and innocent lives." Examples of the maritime humanitarian corridor from Cyprus and the aid pier to be constructed by the US were cited. (Jurist)

See our last report on genocide accusations against Israel.

Famine 'imminent' in Gaza

Famine is "imminent" and projected to begin in northern Gaza between now and May, while nearly the entire population of around 2.3 million people in the enclave is facing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, according to a new analysis by the Famine Review Committee (FRC), an independent group of experts convened by humanitarian agencies. Meanwhile, the UN's human rights chief Volker Turk said March 19 that Israel's restrictions on aid to Gaza may amount to the war crime of starvation. The allegation that Israel is deliberately creating conditions of starvation is also central to the genocide case before the International Court of Justice, the UN's top Court.

A previous FRC analysis in December found there was a risk of famine that would increase each day as long as hostilities and restrictions on humanitarian access continued. Since then, Israel and Hamas have failed to reach even a temporary ceasefire agreement, and Israel has continued its military campaign and siege of the enclave. Aid agencies and experts say Israeli restrictions at Gaza’s borders and the failure to establish a functioning deconfliction process continue to choke aid delivery.

At least 23 children have died of malnutrition and dehydration in recent weeks in northern Gaza, and 25% of children under the age of five in the north are acutely malnourished, according to UNICEF. A small number of aid trucks have reached northern Gaza in recent days, but aid officials have repeatedly said an immediate ceasefire is needed to mount a meaningful humanitarian response. According to Refugees International president Jeremy Konyndyk, the FRC analysis is particularly grim because of how rapidly the situation went from stable to famine, the fact that the entire population is affected, and the absence of natural factors contributing to food insecurity. "This famine is purely man-made. Which means the only solutions will be man-made as well," he wrote on X. (TNH)

US-backed Gaza ceasefire resolution vetoed

After vetoing three previous ceasefire resolutions at the UN Security Council, the US introduced its own resolution March 22. The text noted the necessity of "an immediate and sustained ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides," and called for a truce to be implemented in the context of a deal for the release of 134 remaining hostages held by Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza. But Russia and China vetoed the resolution, with a Russian diplomat calling it "misleading," and a Chinese diplomat saying it fell "short of the expectations of the international community." (TNH)

The US, of course, has repeatedly vetoed UN resolutions calling for a Gaza ceasefire.

Arrests at weekly Tel Aviv protests

Ten protesters were arrested in Tel Aviv during the weekly demonstrations March 22, against the government and in favor of a hostage deal. After the main protests were dispersed, a group of demonstrators made their way to MK Gideon Sa'ar’s apartment building where they called on the lawmaker to ensure that far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich do not gain entry into the war cabinet. (ToI)

Biden signs appropriations bill that includes UNRWA funding ban​

US President Joe Biden on March 23 signed HB 2882, the "Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024." This act provides federal government funding through September 2024 and includes a provision that prohibits funds from being used for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). (Jurist)

UN Secretary General again calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza

UN Secretary General António Guterres made another call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza following a trip to Egypt near Rafah on March 23. He also made a call for Israel to allow aid delivers into the occupied territories without intervening, and for Hamas to release all hostages. (Jurist)

Israeli settlers set their sights on Gaza beachfront

The BBC features an interview with Daniella Weiss, the "grandmother of Israel's settler movement," who says she already has a list of 500 families ready to move to Gaza immediately. She tells them the plots on the coast are already booked. "Gaza Arabs will not stay in the Gaza Strip," she said. "Who will stay? Jews." Asked if this constitutes a call for etnic ceansing, she repiied: "You can call it ethnic cleansing... If you want to call it cleansing, if you want to call it apartheid, you choose your definition. I choose the way to protect the state of Israel."

Jared Kushner: Gaza 'waterfront property could be very valuable'

Jared Kushner has praised the “very valuable” potential of Gaza’s “waterfront property” and suggested Israel should remove civilians while it “cleans up” the strip.

The former property dealer, married to Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka (and formery Trump's Mideast "peace" pointman), made the comments in an interview at Harvard University on Feb. 15. The interview was posted on the YouTube channel of the Middle East Initiative, a program of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, earlier this month. (The Guardian)

Security Council passes resolution demanding Gaza ceasefire

The UN Security Council passed a resolution March 25 demanding an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In addition to calling for a ceasefire, the resolution demands the "immediate and unconditional" release of hostages and a dramatic increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza. It emphasizes that all parties must follow their obligations to international law. The resolution passed with 14 members voting yes and the US abstaining.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the resolution, saying it was "long-awaited," and called for its implementation immediately after the vote, adding that "failure would be unforgivable."

The text of the resolution calls for an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza that would lead to a "lasting" solution. An earlier draft of the resolution had called for a "permanent" agreement, but the US successfully lobbied an amendment changing it to "lasting" over Russia's objections. Although the US did not use its veto, as it had with previous resolutions, it chose to abstain instead of voting in favor because the resolution did not specifically condemn Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks. The resolution has a provision "deploring all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as all violence and hostilities against civilians, and all acts of terrorism," but does not mention specific incidents.

In the lead-up to the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to cancel a delegation to Washington if the US did not veto the resolution, and followed through with that threat after the vote. That delegation, which President Joe Biden requested, was meant to to discuss Israel’s planned operations in Rafah.

The State of Palestine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said before the vote: "The primary responsibility for achieving a ceasefire, protecting civilians, and delivering aid lies with the countries supporting Israel. Recognizing the State of Palestine is a strategic necessity to safeguard the two-state solution and achieve peace."

The US, Egypt, and Qatar are currently mediating ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Israel sent a delegation to Qatar last week to continue talks, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said March 22 that "gaps are narrowing." Hamas disputes this, saying that Wasington's relationship with Israel makes it an unreliable mediator and stands in the way of a final agreement.

Gaza has been devastated in the nearly six months of war, with reports from the BCC and the Guardian showing that at least half of the buildings in the territory have been damaged or destroyed, including entire neighborhoods. (Jurist)

UN rights expert accuses Israel of 'acts of genocide'

A UN human rights expert says she believes Israel has committed "acts of genocide" in Gaza. Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, presented her report to UN member states in Geneva on March 26. 

Albanese concluded that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide against Palestinians as a group in Gaza has been met." (BBC News)

Israel: new Arab-Jewish movement demands ceasefire

In the ongoing protests to demand a ceasefire in Israel, a newly formed Peace Partnership of both Jews and Palestinians has emerged to coordinate demonstrations at the national level. Last week it eld a forum in Jerusalem under the name "Ask for Peace and you shall be persecuted," to raise awareness of pre-emptive arrests and other such repressive measures against protesters. (ToI

ICJ orders additional provisional measures for Gaza

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an order on March 28 imposing additional emergency provisional measures Israel must follow in South Africa's genocide case against the country. The order comes after South Africa requested additional measures in light of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, a request that Israel asked the court to deny.

The court unanimously ordered Israel to "take all necessary and effective measures" to ensure the "unhindered" flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, including food, water, fuel, medicine and sanitation supplies. It stressed that Israel must do so in coordination with the UN "without delay" and specified that this necessitated Israel opening more land crossings into the territory. The ICJ also ordered Israel to ensure that its military does not take actions that could violate the Genocide Convention, including "any action" that prevents the distribution of aid. (Jurist)

Congressman: nuke Gaza

Republican Rep. Tim Walberg was caught on video at a recent constituent event in Dundee, Michigan, saying of Gaza: "We shouldn’t be spending a dime on humanitarian aid. It should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get it over quick." (Mediaite) The New York Times reports that he is now saying the remarks were taken out of context.

The recent genocidal rhetoric from Israel’s political elite has included overt nuclear threats.

Thousands of Israeli protesters demand Netanyahu step down

Tens of thousands of people across Israel joined the families of hostages this weekend to protest against the government and call for the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The protesters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beer Sheva, Caesarea and other cities on Saturday March 30—and at a further demonstration outside the Knesset in Jerusalem the next day—demanded a deal for the release of those still held captive in Gaza after close to six months. They labelled Netanyahu an "obstacle to the deal," vowing to persist until he leaves power. (The Guardian)

On Saturday, protesters tried to block the main highway through Tel Aviv, sparking clashes with the police. (DW)

Bodies recovered as Israeli troops withdraw from hospital

Israel's army has withdrawn from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza following a two-week siege, leaving in its wake destroyed buildings and piles of dead IDF officials said April 1 that its forces killed 200 people and arrested 900 during the operation. Gaza's civil defense put the figure of those killed at around 300.

The army said it conducted its raid without harming civilians and medical personnel, but medical organizations and eyewitnesses have strongly rejected the claim.

The World Health Organization said at least 21 patients died during the siege. Survivors told Middle East Eye that scores of civilians were killed during the siege. (MEE)

Israeli attempt to circumvent UN contributes to Gaza aid chaos

Israel has been working for months to create a parallel system for aid delivery in the Gaza Strip that excludes the UN and other international humanitarian organizations with a long-standing presence in the enclave, more than a dozen international and local aid workers have told The New Humanitarian.

With 1.1 million Palestinians facing imminent, man-made famine in Gaza following a nearly six-month-long Israeli military campaign and siege, the sidelining of established humanitarian actors in favor of an ad hoc system under Israeli control has spread confusion and made the delivery of the limited amount of aid entering Gaza even less reliable and more chaotic, frequently with deadly results, the aid workers said.

"There's been a clear desire to create an alternative structure that Israel has more direct oversight and control over,” said Jesse Marks, senior advocate for the Middle East with Refugees International, which recently published an extensive report on how Israel is obstructing aid efforts in Gaza.

After being sidelined, the UN turned to local and tribal authorities, which have a quasi-governmental role in some parts of Gaza, and neighborhood committees to try to deliver aid to northern Gaza. But on April 1, a committee set up by the tribal authorities to coordinate aid deliveries said it would suspend those efforts after multiple deadly Israeli strikes targeting aid workers and people waiting for aid.

At least 196 aid workers have been killed during Israeli military campaign in Gaza in the past six months, a number unprecedented in modern war.

World Central Kitchen halts Gaza operations after deadly strike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said April 2 that IDF forces had "unintentionally hit innocent people" in the Gaza Strip, after an air-strike killed seven aid workers with the disaster relief charity World Central Kitchen.

The nonprofit group, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, said it is immediately pausing its operations in Gaza. Authorities in Cyprus meanwhile said that ships carrying aid to the Strip were turning back after the incident—a major setback for efforts to get food into Gaza by sea for a population that has been pushed to the brink of starvation by the Israeli siege. (NBC)

Three vehicles carrying the aid workers were apparently hit in succession, pointing to the methodology of targeted assassinations. (PRI)

Biden 'quietly' transfers more bombs, warplanes to Israel

The Washington Post reported March 29 that the Biden administration has "quietly" authorized arms shipments including more than 1,800 MK84 2,000-pound bombs and 500 MK82 500-pound bombs, as well as 25 F-35A fighter jets and engines worth approximately $2.5 billion. The transfers are the latest of more than 100 arms shipments authorized by the Biden administration since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. (TruthOut)

Israel: anti-Netanyahu protests continue

Tens of thousands of Israelis continued to protest in Jerusalem against the government on Monday April 1. The demonstrators have been demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resign.

Now, an issue has emerged that could undermine support for Netanyahu even on the right. A draft bill would eliminate the exemptions given to orthodox Jews from military conscription. The bill has alienated many supporters of the ruling right-wing party, Likud. Many Israelis resent the exemption given to the ultra-orthodox (Haredim), viewing it as unfair and burdensome on those who are drafted into the army. (Jurist)

Most Jewish Israeli men are required to serve nearly three years followed by years of annual reserve duty. Jewish women generay serve two years. But the politically powerful Haredim, who make up roughly 13% of Israeli society, have traditionally received exemptions if they are studying full-time in a yeshiva or religious seminary. (ToI)

President Biden calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire

President Joe Biden called for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians and improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza on April 4. In a press briefing following the announcement, White House national security spokesman Admiral John Kirby declined to explain what policy options the US was considering in the event Israel did not make "concrete" and "tangible" changes. He stated the US expected significant changes—such as the opening of border crossings and free movement of humanitarian aid trucks—within "hours and days." (Jurist)

Israel dismisses officers over World Central Kitchen attack

According to a report from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Apri 5, two officers, a reserve colonel and an active-duty commander, are to be dismissed due to their involvement in Israel's "accidental" attack on seven World Central Kitchen international aid workers. They are accused of "violations of normal operating procedures." (Jurist)

Israel investigation concludes hostage likely killed by IDF

Israel concluded on April 5 its weeks-long investigation into the alleged deaths of multiple hostages held by Hamas via friendly fire, asserting that it is likely that at least one hostage was killed by an Israeli helicopter. (Jurist)