Israel-Hamas War: To Evacuate or Not?
The choice is between competing disasters.
AP (“Palestinians flee northern Gaza after Israel orders 1 million to evacuate as ground attack looms“):
Palestinians began a mass exodus from northern Gaza Friday after Israel’s military told some 1 million people to evacuate toward the southern part of the besieged territory, an unprecedented order ahead of an expected ground invasion against the ruling Hamas militant group.
The U.N. warned that so many people fleeing en masse — almost half the Gaza population — would be calamitous, and it urged Israel to reverse the order. Families in cars, trucks and donkey carts packed with blankets and possessions streamed down a main road out of Gaza City, the biggest city, even as Israeli strikes hammered neighborhoods in southern Gaza.
Hamas, which staged a shocking and brutal attack on Israel nearly a week ago and has fired thousands of rockets since, called on people to stay in their homes, saying the order was “psychological warfare” to break their solidarity.
Many hesitated to leave, mostly because safety was uncertain everywhere in the tiny territory under constant bombardment by Israeli airstrikes. Gaza is sealed off from food, water and medical supplies and under a virtual total power blackout.
“Forget about food, forget about electricity, forget about fuel. The only concern now is just if you’ll make it, if you’re going to live,” said Nebal Farsakh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza City, as she broke into heaving sobs.
Reuters (“Hamas tells Gaza residents to stay put as Israel ground offensive looms“):
Mosques broadcast messages telling Gaza Strip residents to stay put on Friday, in defiance of an Israeli military call for more than a million civilians to move south within 24 hours in the build-up to its expected ground offensive.
Leaders of the enclave’s governing militant group Hamas also urged Palestinians to ignore the call, and by Friday afternoon there were no signs of any mass exodus from the north of the enclave.
Any incursion into the densely populated territory would be a pivotal moment in Israel’s war with Hamas, which on Saturday launched the bloodiest attack on the country since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel has already mounted the heaviest air strikes on Gaza ever, and has mobilised 300,000 reservists and amassed tanks near the border in response to the Hamas assault.
In Gaza, the threats of a ground invasion conjured up images of the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe that refers to the 1948 war of Israel’s creation that led to their mass dispossession.
Gaza analyst Talal Okal described the Israeli relocation order as an “attempt to push the Palestinian people of Gaza into Nakba”.
“Like they did in 1948 when they pushed people out of historical Palestine by dropping barrels of explosives on their heads, today Israel is repeating this before the eyes of the world and live cameras,” Okal told Reuters.
The Israeli military told the civilians of Gaza City to “evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields.”
In Gaza, mosques broadcast the message: “Hold on to your homes. Hold on to your land.”
In Gaza’s Shifa hospital, a man arrived to check on dozens of relatives and friends who have been brought from the site of a residential building Israel bombed in Beach refugee camp.
“I survived, I don’t know why I survived. It is so that I tell the enemy, America, Europe and the world that this Palestinian people will not be defeated,” the man cried toward reporters.
“They think there will be another displacement, or that we may go Egypt. Nonsense,” he said before going into the morgue to try and identify dead relatives.
Well-Known Gaza Hamas cleric Wael Al-Zard was also killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, Hamas said. His son was killed a few weeks ago during border protests along the fence.
On the one hand, there’s a strange asymmetry between the Israeli government warning Palestinian noncombatants to flee from danger and the Palestinian leadership ordering them to stay and be slaughtered. But it’s by no means obvious where a million Palestinians would flee to in short order.