Palestinians fleeing Rafah in Gaza

Palestinian who fled Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip ride with their belongings in the back of a truck, as they arrive to take shelter in Deir el-Balah in the central part of the Palestinian territory on May 12, 2024.

(Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

World Leaders Blasted Over 'Grave' Violations of International Law by Israel

"The first step for Third States in upholding their own legal obligations to ensure [international humanitarian law] is respected is to stop the Rafah invasion, open all land crossings and lift internal barriers for humanitarian access," said an international coalition.

While ordinary citizens from across the globe have expressed their condemnation of the ongoing carnage and suffering in Gaza, a coalition of 20 international human rights groups on Wednesday excoriated world leaders for standing idly by as Israel carries out "a grave violation of international humanitarian law" with its military assault on Rafah.

With the United Nations agencies reporting that as many as 450,000 people have already attempted to flee the encircled southern city where more than 1.4 million had sought refuge, a joint statement by the groups—including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Médecins du Monde International Network, and Mercy Corps—rebuked Israel's evacuation orders as "unlawful" and chided third-party countries for violating their own obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) by refusing to intervene.

"Third States have the responsibility to urgently act in bringing to an end, and pursue accountability for, the Grave Breaches of IHL taking place in Gaza," said the groups. "The first step for Third States in upholding their own legal obligations to ensure IHL is respected is to stop the Rafah invasion, open all land crossings and lift internal barriers for humanitarian access."

According to the statement, Israel's ongoing violations are clear and obvious:

The Israeli military's "evacuation orders" are unlawful and amount to forcible transfer, a grave violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Israel has ordered hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee, without providing civilians and humanitarian actors clear information nor timeframe. IHL sets clear conditions for an evacuation to be lawful: the occupying power must ensure that these displacements are temporary and that displaced persons are provided with satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and members of the same family must not be separated. Israeli authorities have failed to meet any of these requirements.

With Wednesday marking the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, when Palestinians were forced to leave their homes en masse following the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, a new wave of forced displacement is now upon the people of Gaza only served to heighten the harsh reality for those with nowhere safe to go.

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli scholar of Palestinian history at the University of Exeter, explained to Al-Jazeera that while some comparisons with the original Nakba make sense, what is happening now to the people of Gaza is "even worse" in many ways.

"What we see now are massacres which are part of the genocidal impulse, namely to kill people in order to downsize the number of people living in Gaza," Pappe said. On Tuesday, a group of ultra-nationalist Israelis, including members of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet, marched in the city of Sderot near the Gaza border as they called for resettlement of the enclave.

"Ethnic cleansing is a terrible crime against humanity but genocide is even worse," said Pappe. "So I think we are seeing a transition from using ethnic cleansing as the main method of taking as much of Palestine as possible, with as few Palestinians in it as possible—we are moving into a far more lethal method, that of genocide."

According to the joint declaration by rights groups on Wednesday, Israel's military assault in Rafah is "disrupting the humanitarian response" of relief organizations and the United Nations, amounting to a "breach of the U.N. Security Council resolutions 2720 and 2728 as well as the International Court of Justice's provisional measures ordering Israel to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance."

In remarks Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Israel's escalating military operations and evacuation orders in Rafah "are further impeding humanitarian access and worsening an already dire situation."

"For people in Gaza," said Guterres, "nowhere is safe now."

Despite the concerns from U.N. agencies and international relief groups, the U.S. government under President Joe Biden on Tuesday said it was preparing a $1 billion weapons shipment for Israel to bolster its military capabilities.

Because of such military support, the human rights coalition argued in its Wednesday declaration that the U.S. "bears a significant responsibility" for Israel's violations of international humanitarian law. "In addition to halting the transfer of high payload bombs, the U.S. should also use all its leverage to halt the ongoing military operation in Rafah," the groups said.

Those in the human rights coalition said it is the Palestinian people paying the price for the failure of world leaders to meet their obligations to put a stop to the forced displacement of civilians in Gaza.

"We have been warning for months that Israel must be stopped from entering Rafah or Gaza would face an even greater humanitarian catastrophe" than it already has, said Florence Rigal, president of Médecins du Monde France. "The inaction of third countries is seen as a lack of concern for the consequences for the exhausted civilian population. It is unacceptable and immediate action must be taken to prevent further suffering."

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