"Many others have said it before—but it cannot be said enough—there is no safe place in Gaza," the special rapporteur said.
Paula Gaviria Betancur, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), pointed out that Israel had ordered civilians to flee to safety in the south of Gaza two months ago, only to demand that both the new refugees and the residents of southern Gaza evacuate again. She worried that Israel was engaged in forced population transfer and collective punishment, both war crimes.
"Where will the people of Gaza have left to go tomorrow?" she asked. "As evacuation orders and military operations continue to expand and civilians are subjected to relentless attacks on a daily basis, the only logical conclusion is that Israel's military operation in Gaza aims to deport the majority of the civilian population en masse."
Betancur's remarks came as the Gaza Health Ministry raised the official death toll from Israel's attack to 20,057, or almost 1% of Gaza's population, The Associated Press reported. Israel began its bombardment of Gaza on October 7, following a Hamas incursion into southern Israel that killed more than 1,100 people and saw around 240 taken as hostages.
Israel has also displaced at least 1.9 million people, or 85% of Gaza's population. According to Israeli evacuation orders, civilians can now only safely reside within an area less than one-third the size of the entire Gaza Strip.
"Gaza has long been one of the world's most densely populated territories," Betancur said. "The confinement of the entire civilian population to a tiny fraction of the Gaza Strip has created an untenable situation for IDPs, particularly women, children including unaccompanied minors, older persons, and persons with serious medical conditions and disabilities."
"Gaza'z housing and civilian infrastructure have been razed to the ground, frustrating any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel."
The situation for the displaced persons has been made worse by the fact that Israel has blockaded the strip from receiving essential supplies. A full 90% of people in Gaza are eating less than one meal a day, and those displaced in the south can only access one-and-a-half to two liters of water a day.
"Israel's illegal blockade and stranglehold on the entry of humanitarian aid have left IDPs living in appalling conditions," Betancur said.
At the same time, the evacuation orders themselves have not been reliable. Israel has issued contradictory orders, bombed people fleeing south or territories supposed to be safe, and relied on communications technology to disseminate orders despite the fact that it also imposes illegal blackouts. Betancur also noted that civilians who do not evacuate a war zone do not lose their right to be safeguarded under international law.
"Civilians in areas under evacuation order, as well as in so-called 'safe zones,' unilaterally designated by Israeli forces against international humanitarian law, have been the target of indiscriminate attacks which have killed nearly 19,000 Palestinians and injured over 51,000," Betancur said.
"Many others have said it before—but it cannot be said enough—there is no safe place in Gaza," she added.
Even if or when the bombardment ends, the extent of the destruction means that Gazans will have a hard time rebuilding.
"Gaza's housing and civilian infrastructure have been razed to the ground, frustrating any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel," Betancur said.
The AP reported Friday that Israel has destroyed more than two-thirds of the buildings in the north of Gaza and a quarter around the southern city of Khan Younis.
"Gaza is now a different color from space. It's a different texture," Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center, who conducted an analysis of the destruction using Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data, told AP.
U.S. military historian Robert Pape said that the allies destroyed 10% of buildings in Germany during a World War II bombing campaign from 1942 to 1945. In less than three months, Israel has destroyed more than 33% of the buildings in Gaza.
"Gaza is one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history," Pape told AP. "It now sits comfortably in the top quartile of the most devastating bombing campaigns ever."
Analysis suggests that most of those bombs were made in the U.S.
"I call on Israel to immediately end attacks on civilians, cease its campaign to alter the composition of Gaza's population through mass forced displacement, implement a permanent cease-fire, allow for the unrestricted passage of humanitarian aid, and prioritize dialogue to secure the safe release of remaining hostages," Betancur said.