Palestinian Territory - The international community must take swift and serious action to force Israel to stop committing its crime of forced displacement against the people of the Gaza Strip. Israel has forcibly displaced over 1.7 million residents of the Strip in a systematic, widespread, and repetitive manner since the start of its genocidal war on 7 October 2023.

After being forced to travel and shelter south of the Gaza Valley in recent months, thousands of people must be allowed to return to their homes in the Gaza and North Gaza governorates. This is especially important since the Israeli military attack on Rafah has effectively ended the existence of the so-called “safe zone”, which served as a relative haven for those who were forcibly displaced from various parts of the Gaza Strip and had no other place to stay.

Since the Israeli army issued the final orders for forced displacement on 6 May, more than 700,000 people have left Rafah. The forced displacement is still occurring despite extremely difficult circumstances, with families struggling to find tents large enough to house them, arrange for transportation, and pay costs associated with their evacuation.

The orders to leave Rafah come eight months into the genocide, which has destroyed most families’ sources of livelihood and left the majority of them jobless. These families have not only endured repeated forced evacuation and expulsion, but have also lost a great deal of their belongings, including the meagre food supplies they started out with.

Given the numerous Israeli threats to invade the border city, Euro-Med Monitor estimates that roughly 150,000 people were forcibly removed from Rafah in the weeks prior to the official orders of forced evacuation.

Most of these are displaced people who were forcibly evacuated from Gaza City and North Gaza last October after the Israeli army issued widespread orders for forced displacement on 13 October 2023, stating that all residents of the two governorates were subject to the following warning: “Urgent warning to residents of the Gaza Strip: Your presence north of the Gaza Valley puts your lives in danger. Anyone who refuses to flee from the northern part of the Gaza Strip to the southern part of the Gaza Valley might be linked to terrorist groups.”

Over the course of several months, the Israeli forces have taken various measures to forcefully displace more than 900 thousand Palestinians. These measures have included direct evacuation orders and the creation of a coercive environment that has resulted in a mass exodus due to Israel’s violent bombing, intimidation, storming of homes and shelter centres, and its forcing those sheltering inside to leave and travel south. Nearly 400,000 people have remained internally displaced in the Gaza City and North Gaza governorates.

Since there is no longer any area in the Strip that is even relatively safe following Israel’s invasion of Rafah and forced evacuation of its residents about two weeks ago, Israel’s argument that those displaced from Gaza City must stay in the Strip’s south for safety purposes is rendered invalid.

Due to their large numbers and lack of access to basic amenities, hundreds of thousands of displaced people have been forced to take refuge in the streets and on the coast, west of Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah in the southern and central sections of the Strip.

According to statements made by Israeli and international media, Israel stated during the cease-fire negotiations that it was willing to return displaced people to their areas of residence in Gaza City and North Gaza. This means that, in defiance of all international legal regulations, the international community is currently permitting Israel to use the possibility of the cessation of this serious crime as a tool of negotiation and blackmail.

Forced displacement is a grave crime that is negatively impacting the lives of over a million civilians, most of whom are women and children. As it is being carried out methodically and extensively, it is considered a crime against humanity and a war crime, and is included in the crime of genocide that Israel is committing in the Gaza Strip.

After nearly eight months of Israeli aggression and forced displacement, which has left over a million people in tents and inadequate shelter centres without access to basic necessities, and in light of the end of combat operations in most residential areas in the north, their right to return home must be granted immediately.

Even though Israeli bombing and bulldozing operations have destroyed about 70% of the Strip’s residential areas, going back to their homes and living next to them is still an obligatory right that needs to be fulfilled right away. This must be supported by an international commitment to immediately provide water, basic necessities for survival, health care, and other temporary housing needs, as well as to compensate the victims for all of their losses in compliance with international law and hold Israel accountable for all of its crimes, including the crime of forced displacement.

Denying this right leaves 1.7 million forcibly displaced people homeless, without any guarantee of return, amid a lack of basic necessities or adequate shelter. Further, Israel’s closure of border crossings, plus its blocking of aid entry and cash into the Gaza Strip, amount to an Israeli decision to impose a new catastrophe on the Palestinian people and continue to cause famine and use starvation as a weapon of war in order to complete its genocide against the Palestinian people.