On Friday, Israel ordered over one million Palestinians in northern Gaza to immediately evacuate their homes. Heeding the warning, seventy Palestinians boarded a fleeing convoy headed for southern Gaza. Minutes later, an Israeli air strike hit the civilian caravan with chilling precision, killing everyone on board.
The scene has sent shocks of horror down the spines of residents of the tiny, heavily blockaded sliver of land known as the world’s largest refugee camp, who find themselves trapped in a death pit with no hope of escape. Israel has bombarded locations in the south of Gaza, where it ordered civilians to relocate, including in Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, and Rafah.
On Sunday, Gaza’s two million residents suffered the deadliest day of the war, with over three hundred Palestinians killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. So far, Israeli air strikes in Gaza have killed a staggering 2,800 Palestinians, including at least 800 children, and wounded nearly 11,000 others. The vast majority have been civilians. Israel admits it’s killed just six senior Hamas leaders, yet the bodies of dead children are strewn in the streets and under the rubble.
As it gears up for a potential ground invasion, Israel has persisted in warning Palestinians in northern Gaza to leave. Israel has already pushed out over one million Palestinians in Gaza from their homes — half the population — over the last week. Many Gazans fear that leaving would amount to a second Nakba, the first being the mass expulsion of Palestinians by Israel in 1948, when about 750,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes and become permanent refugees, with 250,000 of the uprooted fleeing to Gaza.
The Israeli army has even issued evacuation warnings to hospitals overcrowded with wounded civilians, including the Kuwaiti Hospital in the center of Rafah. Human rights organizations have called Israel’s relocation orders a forcible transfer of population that amounts to a war crime.
“We are particularly concerned about the devastating impact on the 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza right now and newborn babies, who are all left without essential medical care and the safety they deserve as they make the impossible choice of fleeing with no guarantee of safety or remaining at risk of almost certain death,” said Riham Jafari of ActionAid Palestine.
But the prospect of staying is equally terrifying: Al Jazeera reports that Israel is killing a Palestinian in Gaza every five minutes. Israeli forces have massacred entire families and wiped out whole neighborhoods. In its brutal bombardment campaign to “smooth” the way for a ground invasion, Israel has all but flattened Gaza. It has carried out one of its worst indiscriminate targeting of civilians on record, bombing urban neighborhoods, residential towers and buildings, schools, hospitals, and United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) premises. Refugee camps — Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, Jabalia — have become the site of massacres. UNRWA says Israel has bombed its school in Gaza, killing eleven UN staff and thirty students. Many hospitals have been bombed and damaged beyond repair.
Bone-chilling stories of survivors abound. Fulla al-Laham, a wounded four-year-old child, woke up in a hospital to find herself the sole survivor of an Israeli air strike that had killed her parents, siblings, and relatives. Another survivor discovered, to his horror, that of the two hundred residents of his razed building, only eight had survived, all of them severely wounded.
The streets of Gaza, filled with rubble and reeking of blood, are transited by heartbroken survivors. One video shows a Palestinian women weeping over the loss of twenty members of her family. Another video features Jamal al-Durra, whose son Muhammad al-Durrah was shot dead in his lap by Israeli soldiers during the second intifada, bidding farewell to family members who were killed by Israeli air attacks.
Gaza has become a massive graveyard where cemeteries have rapidly filled up. Mourning families struggle to bury their dead in informal graveyards dug in empty lots under relentless air strikes and an intensifying siege. Many end up in mass graves. Others are being kept in ice cream trucks. One thousand bodies remain buried under rubble.
Backed with US weapons and munitions, Israel has dropped over ten thousand bombs in Gaza in just a week, twice as many as the US dropped in Afghanistan in a year and, according to UN sources, the equivalent to a quarter of a nuclear bomb. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have confirmed that Israel has used white phosphorus against civilians, burning down people and houses in overcrowded urban areas.
Doubling down on its collective punishment of Palestinians, Israel continues to deprive civilians in Gaza of food, water, fuel, and medicine, sparking fears of mass starvation. Humanitarian aid is verboten, hospitals overwhelmed with casualties. Israel seems eager to fulfill the genocidal mission pronounced by its defense minister, Yoav Gallant: “Gaza will never return to what it was.”
History is repeating itself. As Israel’s ground invasion looms, Gazans are bracing for more civilian deaths and displacements and a tragic repeat of past horrors: seventy-five years after the Nakba, descendants of the 250,000 Palestinians refugees who had survived ethnic cleansing and fled to Gaza now find themselves facing a similar fate at Israel’s hands.