Palestinian women and children under a plastic tent as refugees in Rafah

Palestinian families are seen among tents as they struggle with strong winds, downpours, and floods while Israeli attacks continue in Rafah of Gaza on February 15, 2024.

(Photo: Abed Zagout/Andalou via Getty Images)

Peace Group Urges Biden to Prevent 'Catastrophic' Israeli Assault on Rafah

"The Biden administration must use every tool at their disposal to stop it from taking place," says Win Without War's director.

The head of a leading U.S.-based peace group on Thursday joined the growing chorus of voices imploring the Biden administration to do everything in its power to pressure the Israeli government to prevent an Israel Defense Forces ground invasion of Rafah, the southern Gaza city where 1.5 million Palestinian war refugees and residents with nowhere to go are bracing for the worst.

"A full-scale attack on Rafah would be catastrophic and the Biden administration must use every tool at their disposal to stop it from taking place," said Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti.

"More than half the population of Gaza are living in Rafah," she continued. "Largely in makeshift tents, having been forced to this tiny corner of the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt by a series of IDF evacuation orders. They have no protection from IDF firepower, and nowhere left to go in Gaza to avoid the war."

Haghdoosti added:

The U.S. is likely the only government in the world that could sway the Israeli government to not move forward with this plan. To do so, however, it must use its leverage with the Israeli government. The Biden administration has made welcome gestures in recent weeks toward curbing the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, including stating that an attack on Rafah without an adequate plan to protect civilians would be a 'disaster.' In truth, no such plan is possible. Now is the time for President [Joe] Biden to turn those words into action and enumerate clear consequences the Israeli government will face if it goes through with a dangerous, destructive assault on Rafah.

The international appeals—which include a Thursday joint plea from the prime ministers of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—appear to be falling on deaf ears, even as the number of Palestinians killed, maimed, or left missing by Israeli bombing and bullets in Gaza approached at least 105,000 this week, according to officials in the besieged strip.

"We are going to continue to support Israel," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing this week. "They have a right to defend themselves against Hamas. And we're going to continue to make sure they have the tools and the capabilities to do that."

At least hundreds of Palestinians in Rafah have already been killed or wounded in Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks in and around Rafah, including during Monday's raid on a crowded apartment building that freed two Israeli Argentinians held hostage by Hamas. Scores of Palestinians were killed by airstrikes supporting the rescue mission, including "children ripped to shreds, convulsing, looking helplessly upon their deaths," according to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.

Matthew Hollingworth, the Palestine director of the United Nations' World Food Program, said Rafah's streets are "packed with throngs of people," with every available space in the city hastily transformed into a makeshift shelter and Palestinians struggling for food, fuel, and other necessities amid "damp, cold, and miserable" conditions.

Writing Wednesday for Jacobin, Sarah Burch, editorial coordinator at Jewish Voice for Peace, asserted that "an invasion of Rafah would be the most dangerous stage of Israel's genocide of Palestinians yet, causing death on a scale unseen even in these four months of sheer brutality."

Levy agrees. "All we can do now is to request, beg, cry out: Don't enter Rafah," he wrote for Haartez. "An Israeli incursion into Rafah will be an attack on the world's biggest displaced persons camp. It will drag the Israeli military into committing war crimes of a severity that even it has not yet committed."

"It is impossible to invade Rafah now without committing war crimes," he added. "If the Israel Defense Forces invades Rafah, the city will become a charnel house."

Despite global protests, including in Tel Aviv, against attacking Rafah, Israel appears poised to invade the city, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his far-right government have repeatedly vowed to do. Last Friday, Netanyahu ordered the IDF to plan for the "evacuation"—or what critics are calling the "ethnic cleansing"—of Rafah's residents.

In a desperate bid to thwart the looming ground invasion of Rafah, South Africa this week implored the International Court of Justice to do what it declined to do when it issued last month's preliminary ruling that found Israel is "plausibly" committing genocide in Gaza: Order Israel to stop its onslaught.

"The unprecedented military offensive against Rafah, as announced by the state of Israel, has already led to and will result in further large-scale killing, harm, and destruction," the South African government said in its filing. "This would be in serious and irreparable breach both of the Genocide Convention and of the court's order of January 26, 2024."

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