Geneva - The Israeli army has targeted thousands of Palestinians who it had forcibly displaced, preventing them from going back to their areas of residence in the northern Gaza Strip by using live ammunition and artillery shells. This has resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries, including women and children, and forced the remaining Palestinians to return to their places of displacement.

The Israeli army deliberately attacked thousands of Palestinian civilians on Sunday, killing and wounding dozens of them, and continuing its crime of forced displacement by preventing civilians it had previously forced to evacuate, including women and children, from crossing from the centre and south of the Gaza Strip intotheir areas of residence in the northern regions, despite the end of hostilities in most of these regions. These actions may be considered crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Israel has been committing serious crimes for more than six months now, including forced displacement, which is intended to end Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip. These crimes are all part of Israel’s larger campaign of genocide.

As thousands of displaced people attempted to cross, via Wadi Gaza Bridge, an Israeli military checkpoint on the coastal road known as Al-Rashid Street, to return to their residential areas in the northern Strip, Israeli forces killed at least five Palestinians, including a woman and a girl, andinjured dozens more. Other Palestinians have been leftmissing, due to the chaotic scene.

Identical testimonies were received by Euro-Med Monitor confirming that the Israeli army forces fired tear gas bombs, live ammunition, including from quadcopter aircraft, machine guns from naval boats, and artillery shells directly and deliberately towards thousands of civilians trying to return home.

Despite news circulating on social media about the Israeli army’s condition-based permission for the displaced to return to the northern Gaza Strip, the displaced said they were surprised to be targeted directly and arbitrarily on Al-Rashid Street.  

Muhammad Habib told the Euro-Med Monitor team that he and his cousin Naim Ismail Habib attempted to use Al-Rashid Street to get back to their homes in Gaza City, but were ambushed with gunfire by Israeli forces stationed close to the area of Al-Baydar Resort along with hundreds of other displaced people.

Although he “miraculously” escaped the Israeli targeting, Habib said that his cousin was killed after being shot twice in the head and flank by a quadcopter drone. He also witnessed a minimum of 10 other people being injured by Israeli forces concurrently, in the same spot.

Fifty-five-year-old Hassan Ahmed Abu Maarouf said that he arrived in the New Port area on Al-Rashid Street and attempted, along with hundreds of others, to return to the north. Instead, he was shot and injured in his feet. After being left bleeding for many hours, he was successfully recovered amid heavy gunfire.

The coastal road in the central Gaza Strip was congested with trucks, buses, cars of all sizes, and animal-drawn vehicles carrying thousands of internally displaced people who were attempting to return to the Gaza City and North Gaza governorates before the Israeli army stopped them.

Displaced people from the Netzarim Crossing area were later observed to have returned to the central and southern Gaza Strip due to their inability to cross into the northern part of the Strip. On their way back to the centre and south, Israeli gunfire claimed the lives of several people, according to the Euro-Med Monitor team on the scene.

Umm Khaled Harb, 45, stated that she had heard from others that women and children were being permitted to return to Gaza City by the Israeli army. After more than two hours of walking on foot to reach an army checkpoint, Harb and her group were met with intense gunfire that left them terrified and forced them to flee. Dozens of people were injured at the scene.

After hearing about the return of people to northern Gaza, Khaled Saad, a 31-year-old refugee from the Jabalia camp, said: “We found thousands of people there, but when we arrived, the planes opened fire on us, injuring many young men and women. There were numerous injured people whose fate [remains] unknown.”

The Israeli army emphasised that it will not allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes in Gaza City and its surrounding areas, citing the area as a “war zone” even though fighting has stopped in most of these areas.

Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee denied the reports of Palestinians on the ground, saying that “the rumours according to which the army permitted residents to return to the northern Gaza Strip are lies and lack any basis”, and adding that “the army will not allow the return of residents either through the Salah Al-Din axis or through the Rashid axis (Al-Bahr)”.

An estimated two million people have been forcibly displaced in the Gaza Strip; many of them have been forced to move multiple times in search of safety. Some of these families have even had to live out in the open, on the ground where sewage flows, due to having no other options.

Since 12 October 2023, which is five days after the Israeli army began its genocide against the people of the Gaza Strip, the army has attempted to carry out its largest-scale campaign of forced displacement against the approximately 1.1 million residents of Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip by forcing them to evacuate to the south and centre of the Strip. Israel’s army has not provided these people with any safe place or assurance that they will be allowed to return to their homes in the future.

Large sections of the southern city of Khan Yunis, and later, areas in the central Gaza Strip, were ordered to evacuate by the Israeli army on 1 December 2023. The evacuation orders were later extended to Rafah, in the south of the Strip.

Israel must stop its crime of forced displacement against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and to allow their return to their homes in accordance with international law, which requires the occupying authority return the displaced residents to their homes as soon as military operations cease.

The international community must pressure Israel to cease all of its crimes in the Strip and abide by the rules of war, which forbid the deliberate targeting of civilians under any circumstances and regard the forcible displacement of civilians as a serious violation tantamount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Israel’s plans to implement forced displacement, which entail a rising degree of ongoing dehumanisation, denial of rights, and destruction of Palestinian lives in the Gaza Strip, must be confronted by international parties that openly declare their opposition to all forms of forced displacement.

Given the dire and incredibly complicated humanitarian circumstances that the forcibly displaced people in the Strip are facing, their suffering must cease and their prompt return to their places of residence must be guaranteed.

The ongoing impunity enjoyed by Israel, evidenced by thelack of consequences it faces, deprives international law of its intended purpose and substance, and erodes the credibility of the institutions tasked with upholding it.