Israel’s Rafah Tents Massacre, Yet Another Heinous War Crime

Just when we thought we couldn’t see anything more heinous in its genocidal war on Gaza, Israel has plumbed greater depths of savagery by bombing Rafah, killing dozens. When will this madness end?

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah on May 27, 2024. (Photo by Eyad Baba / AFP via Getty Images)

It was one of the most heinous assaults on Palestinian civilians in recent memory. Last night, Israeli forces pounded a tent camp housing displaced people in a designated safe zone in north Rafah, killing at least forty-five Palestinians, most of them women and children, and injuring hundreds others.

Media reports show that Israel blitzed the tent camp where Palestinian refugees were sheltering in tents with seven massive US bombs weighing two thousand pounds each. The bombarded refugee tents, marked as Block 2371, had been designated by Israel as a “safe area” for civilians.

Widely circulated footage shows a night of unspeakable horror: bodies burned to ashes, charred and blackened beyond recognition; beheaded children, decapitated and ripped apart by US bombs; parents clutching their dead and burned children, screaming in horror; rescuers pulling people’s charred remains from the burning tents; wounded victims transferred to the hospital with horrific and gruesome injuries. Horrifying footage shows a man holding up what appeared to be the body of a small child who had been beheaded.

Citing the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), the Palestinian news agency Wafa said the victims included women and children, many of whom were “burned alive” inside their tents. An eyewitness resident who arrived at the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah related, “Tents were melting and the people’s bodies were also melting.”

A horrified doctor who witnessed the carnage said, In all my years of humanitarian work, I have never witnessed something so barbaric, so atrocious, so inhumane. These images will haunt me forever. . . . And will stain our conscience for eternity.”

The Rafah tents massacre comes days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to halt its military offensive there, and shortly after the International Criminal Court (ICC) said it was applying for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders. Effectively in response, Israel has bombarded Rafah with unprecedented brutality. Observers estimate that Israel has bombed the refugee town over one hundred times since the ruling. Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, described Israel’s bombing of the Rafah camp a “monstrous failure of humanity.”

The massacre has sparked a global outcry. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) described the images from Rafah as yet another testament that Gaza is “hell on earth.” Former UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness called the massacre “the crime of crimes.”

Doctors Without Borders said it was “horrified” by the assault, which “shows once again that nowhere is safe.” ActionAid humanitarian group said it was “outraged and heartbroken” by the “inhumane and barbaric” assault on the Rafah camp: “The images coming from our partners of burned bodies are a scar on the face of humanity and the global community, which so far has failed to protect the people of Gaza.” Calling for action against Israel, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing wrote: “Attacking women and children while they cower in their shelters in Rafah is a monstrous atrocity. We need concerted global action to stop Israel’s actions now.”

Western leaders have expressed horror. Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said he was “horrified by news coming out of Rafah on Israeli strikes killing dozens of displaced persons, including small children,” while French president Emanuel Macron said he was “outraged by the Israeli strikes that have killed many displaced persons in Rafah.” But it’s not immediately clear whether that “outrage” would lead to European sanctions or any other action that could actually force Israel to halt the killing.

Rafah is currently home to 1.4 million displaced Palestinians, most of whom are women and children sheltering in makeshift tents. The attack on the tent camp in Tal as-Sultan came shortly after Israeli forces bombed shelters housing displaced Palestinians in Gaza, including Jabalia, Nuseirat, and Gaza City, killing at least 160 Palestinians. So far Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza has reaped over thirty-six thousand estimated victims, including over fifteen thousand children. It has displaced nearly two million Palestinians, mostly to Rafah, which is now being mercilessly bombarded by Israel. More than eight hundred thousand Palestinians have been forcibly displaced in Rafah since Israel’s ground invasion there.

In a flagrant violation of international norms and humanitarian laws, Israel continues to act with total impunity in Gaza, enjoying Western complicity, and emboldened by US unconditional military and diplomatic support. Amid global outrage and condemnation, Israeli leaders continue to call for the total annihilation of Gaza, and thousands of Israelis have taken to Telegram groups to celebrate Israel Defense Forces atrocities with images of burned Palestinian children.

For over eight months, Palestinians in Gaza have been sharing live videos of their daily executions, pleading with the world to stop the carnage. But the Western political class has remained silent, piping up only to offer platitudes about human rights and international law, while refusing to rein in Israel’s unhinged barbarity, let alone impose sanctions on a genocidal state that is brazenly retaliating against international law rulings by massacring even more Palestinians.

Israel’s bloodbath in Rafah last night marks a new nadir in its savagery against Palestinians. Every day a new threshold of evil is crossed, and just when we thought we couldn’t see anything more heinous, Israel has plumbed greater depths of savagery.