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Israel working to expel civilian population of Gaza, UN expert warns

22 December 2023

GENEVA (22 December 2023) – Israel is seeking to permanently alter the composition of Gaza’s population with ever-expanding evacuation orders and widespread and systematic attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in southern areas of the besieged enclave, a UN expert warned today.

“Israel has reneged on promises of safety made to those who complied with its order to evacuate northern Gaza two months ago. Now, they have been forcibly displaced again, alongside the population of southern Gaza,” said Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Where will the people of Gaza have left to go tomorrow?” she said.

“As evacuation orders and military operations continue to expand and civilians are subjected to relentless attacks on a daily basis, the only logical conclusion is that Israel’s military operation in Gaza aims to deport the majority of the civilian population en masse,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Gaza’s housing and civilian infrastructure have been razed to the ground, frustrating any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel,” she said.

Since 7 October, 1.9 million people – 85 percent of Gaza’s population – have been internally displaced. The scope of evacuation orders has confined them to less than one-third of the Gaza Strip’s territory. Most IDPs live in overcrowded conditions where communicable diseases are on the rise, and struggle to access food, water, electricity healthcare, sanitation, and shelter. These conditions are expected to worsen with the onset of winter.

“Gaza has long been one of the world’s most densely populated territories. The confinement of the entire civilian population to a tiny fraction of the Gaza Strip has created an untenable situation for IDPs, particularly women, children including unaccompanied minors, older persons, and persons with serious medical conditions and disabilities,” the expert said.

Gaviria Betancur urged the international community, and Israel’s allies in particular, to recognise the blatant disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law that has characterised the current conflict.

“The principles of proportionality and distinction between civilians and combatants have been completely disregarded. Hospitals, schools, and shelters have been deliberately targeted without credible evidence that they are military objectives, or attacked without precautions to minimise incidental loss of life or injury to civilians,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Civilians in areas under evacuation order, as well as in so-called “safe zones”, unilaterally designated by Israeli forces against international humanitarian law, have been the target of indiscriminate attacks which have killed nearly 19,000 Palestinians and injured over 51,000,” the UN expert said.

“Many others have said it before – but it cannot be said enough – there is no safe place in Gaza,” Gaviria Betancur said.

Evacuation orders issued to civilians by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been inaccurate, self-contradictory, and largely depend on electricity and telecommunications networks, often subject to an illegal Israeli blackout.

The Special Rapporteur recalled that under international law, individuals that do not comply with evacuation orders do not lose their right to protection. Israel has failed to honour its obligations under international law to ensure displacement does not violate the rights to life, dignity, liberty and security of those affected, and ensure IDPs enjoy an adequate standard of living and access to humanitarian assistance, Gaviria Betancur said.

“Israel’s illegal blockade and stranglehold on the entry of humanitarian aid have left IDPs living in appalling conditions,” she said. “The much-needed re-opening of the Kerem Shalom border crossing will barely make a dent in the needs on the ground if more aid is not allowed in. The Secretary-General has warned that the humanitarian system in Gaza is at severe risk of collapse.”

Gaviria Betancur reiterated her concerns that Israel’s actions amount to the war crimes of collective punishment and forcible transfer.

“I call on Israel to immediately end attacks on civilians, cease its campaign to alter the composition of Gaza’s population through mass forced displacement, implement a permanent ceasefire, allow for the unrestricted passage of humanitarian aid, and prioritise dialogue to secure the safe release of remaining hostages,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Ms. Paula Gaviria Betancur is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what are known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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