Palestinians walk through debris in Gaza

Palestinians walk through debris along a street in the aftermath of Israeli bombardment in al-Karama district in Gaza City on October 11, 2023.

(Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

'We Must Halt This': US Progressives, Humanitarians Decry Israel's Evacuation Order

"The mass expulsion of over 1 million people in a day is ethnic cleansing," said U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. "We must use all diplomatic tools to stop this."

Progressive members of the U.S. Congress joined humanitarian groups and the United Nations on Friday in condemning Israel's 24-hour evacuation order for the entire population of the northern Gaza Strip, a directive that will be impossible for many in the region to meet—particularly the thousands wounded by Israeli airstrikes.

"Any person can see that ordering 1+ million people to move in under 24 hours is not possible. It is unacceptable," U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on social media. "Humanity is at stake. Nearly half are children. We must halt this."

More than 400,000 Palestinians have been displaced since Israel began its latest bombing campaign in Gaza following a deadly Hamas attack on October 7.

In the wake of Israel's order—which came hours before the nation launched ground raids in Gaza—many panicked residents fled their homes in the northern part of the enclave, with some fearing another permanent displacement on the scale of the 1948 Nakba.

"As I am packing my things I am wondering, is this really another Nakba?" 56-year-old Arwa El-Rayes, an internal medicine doctor, toldThe New York Times shortly before fleeing her home in Gaza City. "I am taking my house key and thinking, will I ever return to my home, will I ever see my home again?"

Reutersreported that "several thousand residents could be seen on roads heading out of the northern part of the Gaza Strip, but it was impossible to tell their numbers. Many others said they would not go."

A 33-year-old woman in Gaza City toldThe Washington Post that she's staying along with dozens of family members, including her elderly parents.

"There are no cars to take us anywhere," she said. "There is no gas in cars. Cab companies don't have cars anymore. The streets are so, so, so, so crowded, it's like it's the Day of Judgement."

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) argued that "the mass expulsion of over 1 million people in a day is ethnic cleansing."

"We have to stop ignoring the thousands of Palestinian lives lost and millions at stake!" Omar added. "We must use all diplomatic tools to stop this."

Echoing aid groups, the Minnesota lawmaker emphasized that many in northern Gaza—including people with disabilities and those wounded by Israeli bombs—"can't simply pick up and leave" in compliance with Israel's evacuation directive, which the U.N. said is untenable and should be rescinded.

"With communications and electricity shut down by Israel, the order cannot be communicated," Omar wrote. "Roads are bombed and many cars are out of fuel, making fleeing impossible for many. Plus there has been no announcement of a pause in hostilities to allow for safe civilian evacuation, so people are afraid to leave and risk bombardment. Even if it were successful, there is no infrastructure in southern Gaza to receive an additional 1.1 million people."

The Palestine Red Crescent Society underscored those warnings in a statement Friday, saying it doesn't have "the means to evacuate the sick and the wounded in our hospitals, or the elderly and the disabled."

"There are no safe areas in the whole of the Gaza Strip," the group said. "The world must intervene to stop this catastrophe."

Israeli forces have already been accused of targeting Gazans attempting to flee to the south with airstrikes.

Despite urgent appeals from lawmakers and aid organizations, officials in the U.S.—Israel's top ally and leading supplier of weaponry—have provided no public indication that they will pressure Israel to reverse course.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told people in Gaza City on Friday to "evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families" as it amasses tanks and troops for an apparently imminent full-scale ground invasion. Hamas has reportedly told Gazans to defy the IDF's instructions.

Asked about Israel's evacuation order during a CNN appearance on Friday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said he doesn't want to get involved in "armchair quarterbacking" the situation, adding, "We understand what they're trying to do."

"Now it's a tall order," Kirby admitted. "It's a million people, and it's a very urban, dense environment. It's already a combat zone. So I don't think anybody's underestimating the challenge here of effecting that evacuation."

The White House's soft-pedaling of Israel's directive contrasts sharply with the assessments of human rights organizations, which argued the order amounts to a war crime that will worsen an already calamitous situation.

"The instructions issued by the Israeli authorities for the population of Gaza City to immediately leave their homes, coupled with the complete siege explicitly denying them food, water, and electricity, are not compatible with international humanitarian law," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday. "When military powers order people to leave their homes, all possible measures must be taken to ensure the population has access to basic necessities like food and water and that members of the same family are not separated."

"Gaza is a closed area of limited size and resources," the ICRC added. "People have nowhere safe to go and many, including the disabled, elderly, and sick, will not be able to leave their homes. International humanitarian law protects all civilians, including those who remain. Today, it is impossible for Gazans to know which areas will next face attack."

"There are no extra beds in any hospitals anywhere for people to move to. Most of the wounded are unstable, they'll die en route.

Gaza's health ministry toldThe Independent that it would be "impossible" to move the wounded in its care to southern Gaza, given that the entire territory's healthcare system is overwhelmed and teetering on the brink of total collapse due to the rapid influx of airstrike victims and Israel's blockade, which has cut off the enclave's supply of electricity, fuel, and critical supplies.

More than 6,600 people in Gaza have been injured by Israel's relentless aerial campaign, which dropped roughly 6,000 bombs on the occupied enclave over just a six-day period, leveling entire neighborhoods and damaging medical facilities, schools, and other civilian infrastructure.

"There are no extra beds in any hospitals anywhere for people to move to," Gaza's health ministry said. "Most of the wounded are unstable, they'll die en route. All hospitals in Gaza, even after they've been expanded, are full."

Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, noted that "there are severely ill people whose injuries mean their only chances of survival is being on life support, such as mechanical ventilators."

"So moving those people is a death sentence," said Jasarevic. "Asking health workers to do so is beyond cruel."

Meinie Nicolai, general director of Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement Friday that the Israeli military's evacuation order is "outrageous." The group said Israel has given Al Awda Hospital—where Doctors Without Borders staff are treating patients—just two hours to evacuate.

"This represents an attack on medical care and on humanity. We are talking about more than a million human beings," said Nicolai. "'Unprecedented' doesn't even cover the medical humanitarian impact of this. Gaza is being flattened, thousands of people are dying. This must stop now. We condemn Israel's demand in the strongest possible terms."

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