man evacuates a wounded girl

A man evacuates a wounded girl after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 17, 2023.

(Photo: Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)

'World Must Act': Gaza Faces Starvation, Disease, and Genocide

One group said the U.S. and "the broader international community must demand an immediate cease-fire and end to Israel's genocidal campaign."

As United Nations officials and medical groups on Friday reiterated the harrowing conditions in the Gaza Strip due to Israel's war on Hamas, a U.S. advocacy organization demanded international action to prevent starvation, disease, and genocide.

"The world must act to prevent not only a humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale, but an outright genocide that the Israeli government has been very open about wanting to carry out against the people of Gaza," said Nihad Awad, executive director the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest U.S. Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.

"The world cannot continue making an exception when it comes to the protection of Palestinian human rights and dignity," Awad argued. "If any other government was behaving the way the Israeli government is, they would be rightfully held to account and condemned. Israel must also be held to account for these crimes, and our nation and the broader international community must demand an immediate cease-fire and end to Israel's genocidal campaign."

Academics and legal experts around the world, including Holocaust scholars, have condemned the six-week Israeli assault of Gaza as genocide. Since the October 7 Hamas-led attack in which around 1,200 Israelis were killed and another 240 people were taken hostage, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have killed over 12,000 Palestinians in the besieged enclave, including over 5,000 children.

Top Israeli and American officials have rejected growing global calls for a cease-fire in Gaza, though U.S. President Joe Biden faces mounting internal dissent over his "unwavering" support for Israel, which he has expressed in part by asking Congress for $14.3 billion in military aid, on top of the nearly $4 billion that the nation already gets annually.

"There is a collective responsibility on the part of the international community to ensure that this horror ends now."

Meanwhile, "the situation in Gaza is dire," as Natalie Boucly, acting deputy commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

"1.6 million people have been displaced, out of a total of 2.2 million. It is the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1948," Boucly said. "The scale of destruction and loss is staggering. Entire neighborhoods have been razed to the ground. More than half of the housing units in Gaza are reportedly destroyed. At least 154 UNRWA schools and other buildings have been turned into shelters overnight. They now house more than 810,000 people. That is, half of the displaced population."

"Nowhere is safe in Gaza. The Israeli authorities asked people to move to the south. However, no part of the Gaza Strip has been spared from bombardment. The military escalation in the south of the last few days defies the reassurance that people had received about moving south to be safe. Hospitals, mosques, churches, bakeries, and over 60 UNRWA buildings and schools have been hit across Gaza," she continued, noting that at least 103 of members of her agency have been killed.

"Gaza is under siege. 2.2 million people are being denied access to life's essentials, which amounts to collective punishment. There is simply not enough water, food, medicine, or fuel to sustain life," Boucly added. "There is a collective responsibility on the part of the international community to ensure that this horror ends now."

Also addressing the General Assembly on Friday, World Heath Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that "only 10 of Gaza's 36 hospitals are still functioning, with just 1,400 hospital beds. Many health workers have been displaced, forced to flee with their families."

Explaining some of "what that means," Tedros continued:

More and more casualties, and fewer and fewer beds, health workers, medicines, and supplies; premature babies dying as life-support systems shut down; more than 2,000 patients with cancer, 1,000 with kidney disease, 50,000 with cardiovascular disease, and 60,000 with diabetes, all at risk as their treatment is interrupted; up to 200 women giving birth every day in the worst imaginable conditions; an estimated 20,000 people and counting in need of specialized mental health services; among displaced populations in overcrowded shelters, we are seeing increasing numbers of respiratory and skin infections; cases of acute watery diarrhea as the sewage system breaks down and people are forced to defecate in the open; increasing malnutrition.

"I could go on and on. There are no words to describe the horror," he added, calling for humanitarian aid and a cease-fire.

While the IDF has attacked multiple hospitals, a primary target has been al-Shifa. Israeli forces claimed that Hamas' main base of operations is under the Gaza City complex, but as Common Dreams reported earlier Friday, since infiltrating it on Wednesday, the IDF allegation has been backed up only by footage Israel released of a small cache of weapons.

Since the IDF invaded al-Shifa, doctors have "lost all those who were in the intensive care unit," according to the hospital director. The attack has provoked demands for an independent international investigation into Israel's "absurd" narrative about the facility.

"Al-Shifa Hospital must be enabled to function as a hospital," Tedros said Friday. "Even if Hamas has used the hospital for military purposes, the hospital, and indeed all healthcare facilities, are never without protection under humanitarian law."

Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, also reiterated its call for a cease-fire on Friday and explained that "over the past six days, MSF has been trying to evacuate some of its staff and their families—137 people, 65 of them children—currently trapped inside MSF premises located near al-Shifa Hospital."

Ann Taylor, MSF head of mission in the occupied Palestinian territories, said that "our colleagues hear the constant sounds of gunfire, shelling, and drones. We can hear it when we speak with them on the phone."

"The evacuation route to southern Gaza remains unsafe," Taylor stressed. "They are terrified, they ran out of food several days ago and children have now started getting sick from drinking salty water, they must be evacuated now."

Martin Griffiths, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, also emphasized the urgent need for aid and a cease-fire in Friday remarks to the General Assembly.

"It is without doubt a humanitarian crisis that, by any measure, is intolerable and cannot continue," he declared. "In many respects, international humanitarian law appears to have been turned on its head."

Griffiths laid out 10 points that his office sees as "the necessary requirements for the humanitarian response," including continuous flows of aid, security assurances, the delivery of fuel, and increased funding.

"For as dire as the situation is in Gaza, it could get far worse," he warned. "I have real concerns that if we do not take action now, this is a conflict that could spread its tendrils further into other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and drag the region into a conflagration with even more catastrophic consequences."

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