The Israeli military has issued a chilling warning to the Palestinians living in northern Gaza, telling them that they would be considered “a partner in a terrorist organization” if they did not comply with the forced displacement orders and move to the south of the coastal enclave.
The order, which was announced on Friday, gave around one million civilians in northern Gaza – including Gaza City – 24 hours to evacuate their homes and seek shelter in the southern half of the Palestinian territory. The order came amid a brutal Israeli offensive that has killed more than 2,400 people and injured over 9,000 in Gaza since October 7.
The Israeli army said the order was issued “for their safety and protection” and claimed that it was targeting Hamas assets and infrastructure in northern Gaza. However, human rights groups and international observers have denounced the order as a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and a form of collective punishment against the civilian population.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the order has triggered “mass displacement” towards the south of Gaza, where more than 532,000 people have already been internally displaced by the Israeli attacks. The UN agency said that many people were unable to leave due to the ongoing airstrikes and rockets, the lack of fuel and transportation, and the physical barriers imposed by Israel’s blockade and closure of Gaza’s crossings.
The UN also warned that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza could worsen as a result of the order, as the already overstretched health, water, sanitation and electricity services would face additional pressure from the influx of displaced people. The UN said that many people were sleeping on the streets or in overcrowded shelters, without adequate access to food, water, hygiene and health care.
The order has also raised fears for the safety of civilians who remain in northern Gaza or who attempt to flee. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least 70 people, mostly women and children, were killed as they evacuated on Friday. The ministry also said that many bodies were still buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings and that ambulances were unable to reach them due to the Israeli attacks.
The order has also put at risk the lives of thousands of hospital patients, especially those who depend on life-saving equipment or treatments. Gaza’s main Al-Shifa Hospital, which is located in northern Gaza, is struggling to treat the bulk of the injured and has warned that it could run out of fuel, oxygen and medical supplies soon. The hospital said that evacuating its patients was not an option, as there was no safe place for them to go.
The order has been condemned by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem. They have called on Israel to rescind the order immediately and to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and minimize harm to them. They have also urged the international community to intervene and stop Israel’s unlawful attacks and collective punishment measures against Gaza’s population.