Israel Is Bombing “Safe Zones” for Refugees in Gaza

On Friday, Israel bombed areas in Gaza that it had designated as “safe zones” for refugees. It was the beginning of a weekend of wanton killings of Palestinian civilians — enabled by the US’s continued supply of weapons to Israel.

Palestinian men carry a body for burial, killed the day before in a strike on the al-Mawasi area, in the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Bashar Taleb / AFP via Getty Images)

On Friday, Israeli forces carried out another tents massacre in Gaza, this time in the al-Mawasi area of Rafah, killing at least thirty Palestinians, most of them children.

The World Health Organization says the health system in Gaza is facing near collapse as casualties from the Israeli assault in al-Mawasi poured into the already overwhelmed al-Aqsa Hospital. Many wounded died on the way to the depleted hospitals, as rescuers struggled to transport victims on animal carts — having run out of fuel and fearing Israel’s bombing of ambulances.

The Mawasi massacre was a seemingly deliberate assault on displaced civilians sheltering in makeshift tents in the sandy refugee camp located west of Rafah. “Fire was consuming us from every direction,” one horrified survivor told Al Jazeera. “We had just eaten and were about to sleep and take some rest, and the next thing we knew was the sound of resounding explosions destroying our places!”

Witnesses say that Israel used sound bombs near the Red Cross tents and field hospital to lure Palestinians out and kill them. The International Committee of the Red Cross office, which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced families living in tents, was nearly destroyed in the bombing. A grieving woman related:

Today, before afternoon, a bomb was thrown near the Red Cross. My husband went out after hearing the sound of the explosion. The second bomb was near the Red Cross building. All the young men went there because some people were injured. My husband went, and I looked for him but couldn’t find him. Everyone was forced to flee in their clothes without taking their belongings.

The Mawasi massacre comes barely a month after Israel’s tents massacre in Rafah in May, which killed over forty-five Palestinians and wounded hundreds others. Like Rafah before it, the Mawasi tent camp had been designated by Israel a “safe humanitarian zone” for forcibly displaced civilians. It was believed to be Gaza’s last refuge after Israel’s invasion of Rafah.

Al-Mawasi is a small rural area along the Mediterranean with no water or sewage systems; it is a narrow strip of coastal land, one kilometer wide and fourteen kilometers long, stretching from the city of Khan Younis to the southernmost city of Rafah. Before the war, the area was largely empty, inhabited by some six thousand residents, mostly Palestinian Bedouin families, who relied on farming and fishing.

Now, it has been swelled into a densely populated refugee camp teeming with hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians fleeing Israel’s genocidal war on the besieged strip and built their tents on the sandy grounds. But if there was ever any doubt, it is clear now that Mawasi was never safe.

The Lie of Safety

On Saturday, with the bloodshed in al-Mawasi still fresh, Israel carried out more massacres in Gaza as it pounded the al-Shati refugee camp and the Tuffah neighborhood, along with Rimal and Shuja’iyya, killing at least forty-two Palestinians — most of them children and women. Hundreds remain trapped under the rubble. Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, described Saturday as “one of the deadliest day[s] since October, with at least 100 Palestinians reportedly killed.”

On Sunday, Israel bombed a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) aid center in central Gaza, where displaced people had gathered to collect food and water. The attack killed at least nine Palestinians, most of them aid volunteers. “Nowhere is safe in Gaza,” UNRWA said in response to the assault. “I found my eldest son injured, the youngest trapped under the debris, and dead bodies lying there,” a survivor of the assault on UNRWA related. “What wrong did those innocent children do? We are running from death toward death.”

The bloodshed continued unabated on Sunday as Israeli forces bombed the Sabra neighborhood south of Gaza City, killing ten family members, while Israeli tanks, advancing under relentless bombardment, pushed deeper into al-Mawasi displacement camps.

On Monday, Israeli forces pounded the Bureij and Nuseirat camps in central Gaza, killing at least five Palestinians, and bombed a gathering of civilians in Khan Younis, killing seven people. At least twenty Palestinians have been killed on Monday, including three people killed near an UNRWA food destitution facility in al-Shati refugee camp northwest of Gaza City, and the director of Gaza’s Ambulance and Emergency Department, Hani al-Jaafarawi, known as “the pillar of health system” in Gaza, was murdered in an Israeli strike on a medical clinic in Gaza City, thus bringing the number of medical staff killed by Israel since October to 500.

The Gaza Healthy Ministry is now warning that starvation threatens the lives of one million children, with nearly 3,500 children “very close to death.” A Reuters report on Monday confirms that “more than one million of Gaza’s inhabitants face the most extreme form of malnutrition — classified by the IPC as ‘Catastrophe or Famine.’” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said on Monday that “Children are dying of malnutrition and dehydration, while food and clean water wait in trucks,” warning of “catastrophic levels of hunger” across the Gaza Strip as “Israel continues its genocide war on the enclave while blocking the delivery of life-saving food and medical items.”

The latest assaults come shortly after a UN report accused Israel of carrying out “extermination” in Gaza that amounts to crimes against humanity. Chris Sidoti, a member of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told reporters: “The Israeli army is one of the most criminal in the world.” On Friday, another chilling report — conducted jointly by Forensic Architecture, Earshot, and Al Jazeeraconcluded that Israeli tanks likely killed Palestinian child Hind Rajab, in an attack that saw Israeli soldiers shoot 335 bullets at the car she was traveling in with her family. And a report released by Save the Children today reveals that nearly twenty-one thousand Palestinians children are missing in Gaza: either trapped under rubble, buried in unmarked graves, harmed beyond recognition, detained by Israel forces, or lost in the chaos of the conflict.

Israel Attacks, US Bombs

An especially dark aspect of the tragedy is that Israel has made no secret of its crimes against civilians in Gaza. One former Israeli MP invoked Adolf Hitler as an inspiration for Israel’s plan to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in Gaza. And to celebrate their civilian atrocities, Israeli forces have filmed themselves denoting residential blocks in Gaza and Rafah, which they proceeded to share on social media. On Friday, an Israeli soldier filmed himself boasting, “We were asked to clear the area. Blow it all up. What can I do, I’m an obedient soldier. Tomorrow there won’t be anything here.” Horrific footage shows Israelis celebrating the sight of a dead Palestinian dangling from an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer, while another shows Israeli soldiers using a wounded Palestinian civilian as a human shield, having shot him and strapped his bleeding body to the hood of a military jeep.

Meanwhile, returning Palestinian captives have told bone-chilling stories of their torture in Israeli detention camps, which Palestinian officials describe as “mass graves for thousands of Palestinian prisoners.” One traumatized prisoner, Bader, could not recognize his only daughter.

Emboldened by US president Joe Biden’s “ironclad” support, Israel continues to act with impunity in Gaza. Israeli forces burned and completely destroyed Rafah Crossing, Gaza’s main lifeline, just days after Doctors Without Borders warned that the closure of the Rafah border crossing was impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the besieged strip — where more children are dying of starvation almost daily, including four children this past week. In a refugee shelter in Beit Lahia, over sixty people, mostly children, were reportedly poisoned after consuming expired canned food they received in aid packages. On Friday, Israel killed five workers of the Gaza City municipality as they prepared to fix a well and restore access to freshwater to displaced families.

Yet Israel’s genocide in Gaza does not appear to have an end in sight. Last week, Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu made a video statement in which he slammed the United States for “withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.” Yet this comes barely two months after Biden approved Israel $17 billion in additional aid in April, on top of the $3.8 billion in military assistance that Washington provides to Israel annually. Instead of holding Israel accountable for its war crimes in Gaza or actually trying to get Netanyahu to end the war, the Biden administration strongly disputed the claim that the United States is blocking arms shipments to Israel. (The administration paused one shipment of two-thousand-pound bombs in May, but claims that arms transfers have otherwise proceeded apace.)

While Western leaders gather in Swiss resorts to debate world peace, or embark on their summer vacations, or attend the Euro games in Germany, the people of Gaza are being slaughtered. One day, historians will no doubt look back on Gaza in horror as they ponder why leaders of the free world backed a genocide.