A Closer Look – Why Palestinian Displacement in Gaza War Concerns United Nations and Arabs?

By Tom Perry and Mayan Lubell

(Reuters) – Israel's plans to attack a city home to more than half of Gaza's population are raising international concerns about the possibility of worsening an already worsening humanitarian crisis and sending Palestinians fleeing across the border into Egypt.

In the past few days, Israeli airstrikes have begun targeting Rafah, which lies directly on the Egyptian border, where hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence in the north live and are trapped in a desperate situation. Israeli forces are preparing for a ground assault on the southern city.

Reports that Egypt is preparing for the possibility of a mass exodus have fueled fears that Palestinians could be forced out of the Gaza Strip altogether.

Egypt has begun equipping a desert area with some basic facilities to shelter Palestinians, three security sources said. Sources confirmed that it was an emergency move.

Egypt refused to make such preparations.

* What lies behind fears?

Palestinians have long been haunted by memories of the Nakba and the specter of the 1948 declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel that forced 700,000 people from their homes.

Many of them were expelled or fled to neighboring Arab countries, including Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and many of them or their descendants still live in refugee camps in these countries, some of whom went to Gaza. Israel denies the story of their expulsion from their homes.

Since October 7, the clashes have seen an unprecedented Israeli bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza, destroying urban areas across the region. Palestinians and UN officials say there are no longer any safe areas to seek refuge inside Gaza.

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) says about 1.5 million people have gathered in Rafah, six times the number that lived in the city before October 7.

*What happened during this conflict?

Before Israel launched its ground offensive on Gaza, it first asked Palestinians in northern Gaza to move to what it said were safe areas in the south. As the attack widened, Israel asked them to move south towards Rafah.

The United Nations estimates that about 85 percent of the 2.3 million people who live in Gaza, one of the world's most populous areas, have already been displaced from their homes and are now crowded into a small area near the border. .

* What happened earlier on the Gaza border?

There has never been a war of this ferocity in Gaza before, and in the past few years of conflict and conflict with Israel, there has been no mass flight across the border from Gaza. But there have been incidents of Gaza's crossing into Egypt, and even if the number crossing is in the hundreds or thousands, these people are neither seeking shelter nor willing to stay.

Following Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Palestinians breached the fence and some climbed using ropes. At one point, Palestinian gunmen stormed a concrete barricade to create a breach.

Hamas crossed the border again in 2008, defying an Israeli ban, and Egypt tightened border procedures after seizing control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. The border was porous for ten days before Egypt closed it again.

* Is this conflict likely to result in massive displacement?

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Many Palestinians in Gaza say they would not leave even if they had the chance because they fear a return to 1948 would lead to permanent displacement. Meanwhile, Egypt has a few thousand expats, dual citizens and a few more. to leave the Gaza Strip.

Egypt and other Arab countries strongly oppose any attempt to push Palestinians across the border.

The scope of this conflict has surpassed other crises and upheavals in Gaza in recent decades, and the humanitarian disaster for Palestinians is worsening by the day.

* What do the Arab countries and the United Nations say?

Since the early days of the conflict, Arab governments, particularly Israel's neighbors Egypt and Jordan, have said Palestinians should not be expelled from the lands they want to establish a future state that includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

These countries, like the Palestinians, fear that any mass movement across the border will undermine the chances of achieving a “two-state solution” and leave Arab countries to deal with the consequences.

As the humanitarian crisis worsens, senior United Nations officials have expressed similar concerns about the mass exodus.

US President Joe Biden said Israel should not take action in Rafah without a plan to ensure the safety of the displaced. Israel's other allies expressed concern over the possibility of an attack on Rafah.

Martin Griffiths, the humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said on Thursday (15 February) that it was an “illusion” for people in Gaza to get to safety. Inflow of Palestinians into Egypt if Israel initiates military action.

* What did the Israeli government and its politicians say?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Rafah was Hamas' “last bastion” and had four battalions of fighters. He added that Israel will not achieve its goal of eradicating the movement as long as it exists.

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Israel says it is preparing plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah to other parts of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Friday (16 February) that Israel has no plans to deport Palestinians from Gaza and will find a way that does not harm Egypt's interests.

But the comments of some Israeli politicians raised Palestinian and Arab fears of a new Nakba.

On December 31, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smodrich called on Palestinians in Gaza to leave the besieged area. National Defense Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the war “gave an opportunity to focus on promoting Gazan immigration”.

After Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on December 10 that the Israeli attack was “a deliberate attempt to evacuate the Gaza Strip of its residents”, Israeli government spokesman Elon Levy described the comments as “blatant and false accusations”.

* Possible consequences under international law

Andre Nollekamper, a professor of international law at the University of Amsterdam, said that if an Israeli attack forced people to leave Rafah and cross the border, it would be a violation of international humanitarian law.

If the Gazans were flying across the border as a result of their feeling they had no choice because of the threat of a major military campaign, “it would seem very difficult to justify this under international humanitarian law,” he said.

Israel says it wants to eliminate Hamas and that its military actions are justified by the principle of self-defense. He said he was doing everything he could to protect civilians, avoid unnecessary killings and uphold international law in all circumstances.

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