"To explicitly describe forced displacement as a tactic of war two days before a major international trial on your war strategy begins is... an interesting choice."
Israeli officials reportedly plan to tell U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday that Palestinians displaced from their homes in northern Gaza will not be allowed to return unless Hamas agrees to free additional hostages.
Denying a displaced population the right to return home is a violation of international humanitarian law, as many observers noted in response to Axiosreporting on the Israeli threat. Around 130 hostages are still being held in Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.
"Israel is basically telling their weapon supplier that they're going to use those weapons for ethnic cleansing—a war crime and an aspect of genocide," wrote Mohammad Alsaafin, a senior producer at AJ+. "Under both U.S. and [international] law, the U.S. would be required to stop facilitating this. Biden's choice is Israel or the rule of law."
Unnamed senior Israeli officials told Axios on Monday that "while Israel doesn't in principle oppose allowing Palestinians to return to northern Gaza, officials will tell Blinken such a move needs to be part of a new hostage deal." One official was explicit: "We are not going to allow Palestinians to go back to their homes in northern Gaza if there is no progress with the release of hostages."
The Axios story was published hours before Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli leaders as the deadly assault on Gaza entered its fourth month.
The U.S. has backed Israel's latest war on the Gaza Strip from the start, supplying the country with more than 10,000 tons of military equipment and obstructing cease-fire efforts on the world stage.
U.S. law prohibits weapons transfers to countries that are "more likely than not" to use them to commit war crimes, but the Biden administration has refused to formally assess whether Israel is complying with international law and dismissed calls to apply conditions to its military assistance.
Last week, the U.S. State Department rebuked two high-ranking Israeli ministers for demanding the permanent expulsion of Gazans from the Palestinian enclave, much of which has been destroyed by Israel's relentless bombing campaign. The U.S. insisted the ministers' comments were not representative of the Israeli government's position—a claim that Axios' reporting calls into further question.
"To explicitly describe forced displacement as a tactic of war two days before a major international trial on your war strategy begins is... an interesting choice," HuffPost senior diplomatic correspondent Akbar Shahid Ahmed wrote on social media late Monday, referring to the International Court of Justice's upcoming hearings on South Africa's genocide case against Israel.
Around 90% of Gaza's population has been displaced by Israel's assault, which has destroyed more than two-thirds of all structures in the northern part of the strip. In recent weeks, Israeli evacuation orders have pushed increasingly desperate, starving Gazans into an ever-smaller segment of the enclave.
Israel said Monday that it is now focusing its military campaign on central and southern Gaza.
"The fighting will continue throughout 2024," said Daniel Hagari, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces.