Israel/OPT: Israel must immediately rescind its 'impossible' ultimatum over northern Gaza

More than 1,500 people in Gaza have been killed by Israeli airstrikes since 7 October © MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

Urgent reminder that Israel cannot treat northern Gaza as an open-fire zone 

Residents and humanitarian workers describe chaotic scenes, as panicking people attempt to flee through destroyed streets

‘Everyone is running for their life, it's beyond horror. Children crying and in terror’ - one resident of Gaza

‘The international community cannot stand by in silence as Israeli forces unlawfully drive more than a million Palestinians from their homes’ - Agnès Callamard 

The Israeli army’s order to people in northern Gaza to “evacuate” to the south of the Gaza Strip cannot be considered an effective warning and may amount to forced displacement of the civilian population - which is a violation of international humanitarian law - said Amnesty International this evening. 

Amnesty is calling for the order to be rescinded immediately. 

The initial announcement gave people 24 hours to leave northern Gaza “for their safety and protection” - an impossible demand that even an Israeli army spokesperson has admitted cannot be implemented in one day. 

Regardless of the timeframe, Israel cannot treat northern Gaza as an open-fire zone based on having issued this order. Their forces have an obligation to take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians wherever they are in Gaza.

Since 7 October, more than 1,500 people have been killed and more than 6,600 injured in Israeli attacks in Gaza, according to Gaza’s ministry of health. The real number of fatalities is expected to be much higher, with families struggling to recover the bodies of their loved ones from under the rubble. 

Israel’s attacks have been launched in retaliation for last weekend’s horrifying attack that saw Hamas and other armed groups indiscriminately firing thousands of rockets and carrying out mass summary killings of civilians in southern Israel, abducting civilians and taking hostages. At least 1,200 people were killed and 3,436 injured, according to Israel’s health ministry.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

“This order must be rescinded immediately.

“It has sowed panic among the population and left thousands of internally-displaced Palestinians now sleeping on the streets, not knowing where to flee to or where they can find safety amid a relentless bombing campaign by Israel and merciless collective punishment measures. 

“With this order, Israeli forces are setting in motion the mass forced displacement of more than 1.1 million people from Gaza City and the entire northern part of the Gaza Strip.

“Civilians in Gaza must not be used as political pawns and their lives cannot be devalued. 

“Israel’s allies and donor states must urgently call for international humanitarian law to be respected and civilians to be protected.

“The international community cannot stand by in silence as Israeli forces unlawfully drive more than a million Palestinians from their homes. Israel’s forced displacement of Gazan civilians must be halted immediately.

“The international community must also refrain from further legitimising Israel’s 16-year-long illegal blockade and immediately halt the transfer of arms that could be used to commit unlawful attacks.”

Chaos and panic in Gaza

Since the start of the fighting, of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents more than 532,000 have already been internally displaced, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some of them twice. The roads in northern Gaza have been severely damaged by Israeli airstrikes, there is no public transport available, and fuel is scarce due to the tightening of the existing blockade.

One resident described scenes of chaos and panic as people attempted to flee through destroyed streets in northern Gaza: 

“A drive of an hour felt like 30 years. We had to change route many times … Everyone is running for their life, it's beyond horror. Children crying and in terror.”

A humanitarian worker in Gaza told Amnesty:

“They [Israeli army] must tell me how we can evacuate hospitals with ICU patients and all the wounded in the recent attacks - it is nonsense, it’s impossible.”

Due to the destruction of roads and a chronic lack of fuel, rescue teams are unable to reach many areas of northern Gaza to dig out hundreds of bodies still trapped under the rubble.

Fawzi Naffar, a survivor of an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan district which killed at least 40 civilians, told Amnesty:  

“We’re trying to remove the bodies - what remained of the bodies - of children with our own hands. Bulldozers cannot reach the area to remove the rubble. I’ve been here for three days since the bombing. Nineteen members of my family have been killed and I have only been able to recover my daughter-in-law’s body and my son’s shoulder.”

Amnesty has already documented how a number of families fled their homes to areas that they thought would be safer but ended up being bombed. Amnesty spoke to one man who fled Beit Hanoun on foot with his family at dawn on 8 October to seek shelter at a UN-run school in Jabalia. His 19-year-old son was then killed in an attack on a market street in Jabalia as he went to buy bread for the family. 

Among those already displaced are people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Amnesty spoke to women and girls with disabilities who fled their homes on foot. They walked for hours under constant fear of bombardment to seek refuge at UN-run schools in northern Gaza and they are not able to make the long journey by foot to southern Gaza where many shelters have already reached capacity. The protection of these civilians must be a priority.

Fear of ‘second Nakba’

The majority of Gaza’s population are descendants of refugees who were displaced or forced to flee their homes during the 1947-49 conflict in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their towns and villages - a conflict referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba. While many Palestinians in northern Gaza are trying to flee, others have told Amnesty that they are choosing to stay for fear this could become a “second Nakba” as the generational trauma of displacement is etched in the collective memories of many Gazans.

Munir Radwan a university professor, told Amnesty:

“Our parents were expelled from their homes in 1948 during the Nakba. We lost our house which was destroyed in the August 2022 offensive. Our rebuilt house was destroyed again … all our lives we have known nothing but a series of displacements.” 

Another Gaza resident said, “We went to sleep in 2023 and woke up in 1948”. 

Amnesty is calling on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians. Palestinian armed groups must immediately release all civilian hostages and refrain from firing indiscriminate rockets into Israel. Israel must abide by the principles of international law, including the principles of proportionality and distinction, and refrain from collective punishment, retaliation and forced displacement.

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