No safe place in Gaza: Israel’s ploy in exploiting safe zones

(Photo: Twitter/X)
GAZA — On October 13, 2023, Israel ordered 1.1 million Palestinians living in the north of Gaza to evacuate to the south in 24 hours, dropping pamphlets demanding all people to relocate, even those seeking shelter in UN schools, and not return until the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) say otherwise. Israel claimed that Hamas fighters were hiding in tunnels in Gaza City, stating, “This evacuation is for your [Palestinians] safety.” اضافة اعلان

Where should we go?Panic and confusion spread among Gazans upon hearing the order. They questioned the feasibility of the directive and needed guidance about where to go. Al-Jazeera Journalist Safwat Al-Kahlout said, “What is the plan, where should we go, is there a specific place in the south where we can go?” Furthermore, residents raised concerns over the limited space in southern Gaza for accommodating the massive number of displaced individuals.

The UN also expressed concern over Israel’s order. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, “The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences.” He also urged the order’s rescindment to prevent a humanitarian calamity caused by the massive displacement. However, following the order, UN agencies such as UNRWA and WHO relocated their staff to southern Gaza.

Since then, Israel launched a brutal bombing campaign in the North, displacing two million in 96 days alone, and killing over 22,000 Palestinians, 49 percent were in the southern areas of the strip which Israel claimed was safe.

The myth of the safe south: death zones masked as safe corridors and interactive mapsSince the start of the Israeli war on the strip, Israel aimed to undermine the Palestinian spirit by indiscriminately bombing institutions representing hope and future, such as schools, universities, and businesses. Additionally, it pursued plans for ethnic cleansing. Israel employed strategies under the guise of adhering to international law, including the implementation of safe routes and an interactive map.

On November 9, 2023, Israel announced a four-hour “humanitarian pause” in the strip, implementing designated routes for civilian relocation from northern to southern Gaza. In addition, on November 15, the UN passed resolution 2712 which called for humanitarian pauses and corridors. Therefore, Israel defined two one-way safe routes, the Salah al-Din road from Gaza City and the coastal highway.

Upon activating the directive, the reality on the ground didn’t translate the so-called pauses. While asserting a commitment to civilian safety, the safe routes enabled the IOF to inflict significant harm on civilians during evacuation attempts and in areas deemed safe.

In addition, after the temporary ceasefire ended on December 1, 2023, Israel launched an interactive map that divided the strip into blocks, claiming that it would lead Palestinians to safety despite a considerable number lacking internet access. The map, however, increased casualties as reports emerged that Israel bombed locations it had directed civilians to, suggesting a deliberate strategy of grouping civilians in dense areas before targeting them.

Consequently, there emerged a reality that nowhere in Gaza was truly safe, leaving Palestinians with limited choices. The southward relocation through humanitarian routes was perceived as dangerous due to fears of IOF bombings and uncertainties about living conditions in camps, as one civilian told +972 Magazine. Financial constraints and a lack of alternatives further hindered some families from moving. Also, according to journalist Ameera Harouda, some civilians have lost family members whose whereabouts remain unknown, and they are still looking to find and properly bury their killed relatives.

Human rights violations: IOF actions during civilian evacuation On Salah al-Din Street, one of the designated safe routes, IOF erected a military checkpoint on the right lane. According to Independent Arabia, the UN listened to testimonies from displaced individuals who claimed they were instructed to show their ID cards, despite many losing their cards due to their houses being bombed. A technological system for facial scanning was also installed.

Israel exploited the safe routes to trap, attack, and humiliate Palestinians. Euro-Med Monitor reported that the IOF has been conducting mass executions of civilians who were evacuating with live bullets and artillery shells. Furthermore, civilians who crossed the corridor described horrifying incidents, including the intentional destruction of the road, making it perilous, particularly for vulnerable groups. IOF forced displaced families to walk long distances surrounded by tanks and dead bodies, and hold white flags as they were subjected to constant shellfire.

For instance, a Palestinian man named Abu Khalil stated that one of his grandchildren had been directly shot in the arm by IOF gunfire despite raising a white flag, noting that his sons were forced to carry his 16-year-old bleeding grandson for more than 3km. Similar incidents were also recorded; such as a video footage that goes back to November 12, 2023, showing an Israeli sniper shooting an elderly Palestinian woman who was fleeing with her child while also holding a white flag. IOF  didn’t respond to the people’s signs of surrender and fired at the woman, killing her instantly.

Furthermore, there are many reports and testimonies of IOF kidnapping and arresting civilians from these routes. Zahwa al-Samouni, a Palestinian mother, reported to Al-Jazeera that the IOF had kidnapped her three sons while passing the Salah al-Din corridor, raising concerns about their unknown whereabouts.

Testimonies of those remaining in the north Despite declining news coverage in the north due to journalist casualties and fleeing, social media, human rights organizations, and remaining journalists shed light on the horrifying reality in the north.

At the end of December, the Euro-Med monitor reported that nearly 3,000 civilians, including women and children, were kidnapped from homes and shelters. Witness testimonies also recalled that the IOF stormed places where civilians sought shelter, and shot and killed them. Survivors of these attacks faced stripping, violating searches, and harassment, some women were even threatened with rape.

Many also were taken from northern areas like Beit Lahiya, Zeitoun, Jabalia, and Shuja'iyya to Israeli military detention centers. While some had not returned, the ones released described the circumstances surrounding their kidnapping. According to an article by +972 Magazine, soldiers informed civilians they were taken because they did not evacuate to the south. A survivor recalled that the detainees were subjected to electric shocks, beating and the IOF burnt their skin with lighters and cigarettes, adding that they were spat on, and were not allowed food, water, or even access to bathrooms. Several have also died due to the inhuman conditions in which they were held.

One told the magazine, “We were tortured all day. We knelt, head down. Those who didn’t succeed were tied to the fence, [for] two or three hours, until the soldier decided to let him off. I was tied up for half an hour. My whole body was covered in sweat; my hands became numb.”

Moreover, on X, formally known as Twitter, Palestinian civilians have stated that numerous families are trapped in the north with no access to food and water. They have also reported that Israeli snipers surround different areas in the north, targeting anyone who moves, even if it is an individual merely looking out of a window.

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