“Devastating human consequences”: UN sounds alarm over Israel’s “impossible” Gaza evacuation order

The United Nations says Israeli military gave just 24 hours to evacuate 1.1 million people in northern Gaza

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 13, 2023 9:09AM (EDT)

Palestinian women with their children fleeing from their homes following Israeli air strikes rush along a street in Gaza City on October 11, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)
Palestinian women with their children fleeing from their homes following Israeli air strikes rush along a street in Gaza City on October 11, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

The United Nations on Thursday appealed to Israel to rescind an order to evacuate 1.1 million people in northern Gaza, warning of “devastating humanitarian consequences.”

Israeli military liaisons told United Nations officials “that the entire population of Gaza north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours,” U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

“This amounts to approximately 1.1 million people. The same order applied to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities — including schools, health centers and clinics,” the statement said.

It’s unclear how the U.N. could relocate so many people in a short time span after many of the roads were damaged and made impassable by Israeli airstrikes, according to The New York Times.

“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” the UN spokesman warned. “The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”

The Israeli Defense Forces also issued a statement directing all civilians in Gaza City to evacuate to the north “for their own safety and protection,” adding that residents “will be able to return to Gaza City only when another announcement permitting it is made.”

The IDF said it will “continue to operate significantly in Gaza City,” claiming that members of Hamas are hiding inside tunnels underneath houses and “inside buildings populated with innocent civilians.”

Human Rights Watch called on world leaders to speak out “before it is too late” following the order.

“Ordering a million people in Gaza to evacuate, when there’s no safe place to go, is not an effective warning. The roads are rubble, fuel is scarce, and the main hospital is in the evacuation zone,” Clive Baldwin, the organization’s senior legal adviser, said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “This order does not alter Israel’s obligations in military operations to never target civilians and take all the measures it can to minimize harm to them.”

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said in response to the order that "a million people in northern Gaza are not guilty."

"They have nowhere else to go," the group said. "This is not what fighting Hamas looks like. This is revenge. And innocent people are being hurt."

The statement comes amid an Israeli military buildup on the Gaza border, fueling speculation that the country is preparing a ground invasion, according to The Times.

Though many frightened Palestinians fled their homes on Friday, many Gazans were reluctant to leave, according to the Times.

Hamas officials urged residents not to comply with what they called Israel’s “psychological warfare,” according to the report.

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Some residents fear permanent displacement like the one in 1948 when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, according to the Times.

“As I am packing my things I am wondering, is this really another nakba? I am taking my house key and thinking, will I ever return to my home, will I ever see my home again?” Dr. Arwa El-Rayes, a doctor of internal medicine, told the outlet.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that without "any guarantees of safety or return," the order "would amount to the war crime of forcible transfer."

"The collective punishment of countless civilians, among them children, women, and the elderly, in retaliation for acts of horrible terror undertaken by armed men is illegal under international law," Egeland said in a statement. "My colleagues inside Gaza confirm that there are countless people in the northern parts who have no means to safely relocate under the constant barrage of fire."

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Israel has already declared a “complete siege” of Gaza following the Saturday attacks in Israel that killed more than 1,300 people, cutting off food, water, electricity and medical aid to an estimated 2.3 million people. Its airstrikes have wiped out entire neighborhoods, forcing about 400,000 people into temporary shelters. Gaza’s health ministry reported that 1,537 Palestinians, including 500 children, had been killed since Saturday and 6,612 people — a quarter of whom are children — have been injured. Hamas also claimed on Friday that 13 of the estimated 150 hostages it abducted last weekend had been killed in the airstrikes.

Even before the evacuation order conditions in Gaza had become “absolutely horrible” as electricity ran out and hospitals have been pushed to the brink of collapse, Adnan Abu Hasna, an official with the United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees, told the Times.

“We are facing a huge disaster,” he told the Times.

The World Health Organization warned on Thursday that "time is running out to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe if fuel and lifesaving health and humanitarian supplies cannot be urgently delivered to the Gaza Strip amidst the complete blockade."

"Hospitals have only a few hours of electricity each day as they are forced to ration depleting fuel reserves and rely on generators to sustain the most critical functions," the WHO said in a statement. "Even these functions will have to cease in a few days, when fuel stocks are due to run out. The impact would be devastating for the most vulnerable patients, including the injured who need lifesaving surgery, patients in intensive care units, and newborns depending on care in incubators."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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