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Rafah Invasion Was Once Biden’s “Red Line” — But Israel Continues to Cross It

Israel bombed civilians it had previously ordered to move to a designated “safe zone” in the northwestern part of Rafah.

Palestinians flee after the Israeli army targets tents in Al-Mawasi, previously declared a "safe zone" by Israel, in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, on May 28, 2024.

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Two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to halt its military offensive on Rafah, dozens of displaced Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes. On Sunday night, the Israeli military bombed civilians whom it had previously ordered to move to the designated “safe zone” of Tal Al-Sultan in the northwestern part of Rafah.

Israel has bombed Rafah dozens of times since the ICJ ruling. But on Sunday, the bombardment of Palestinians in a tent encampment behind the UNHCR school in Rafah resulted in a large inferno and massive casualties, including children who were burned alive in a sea of flames. According to Al Jazeera, the Israeli airstrikes struck the camp at night. The fire from the bombs falling on the plastic tents spread rapidly, killing at least 45 Palestinians, injuring 249, and razing the tent camp to the ground. This was reportedly followed by an Israeli drone strike on the Kuwaiti Hospital entrance as medics were bringing in the dead and the wounded, killing two staff members.

Hospital director Suhaib al-Hams announced on Monday that the Kuwaiti Hospital would have to suspend services due to “the repeated and deliberate attacks on the hospital’s surroundings.”

The graphic images and cell phone video recordings that have been circulating on social media — a headless child, charred bodies of children, women and children frantically running in all directions trying to escape the fires — are painful to watch. They bring Israeli atrocities in Gaza to a new level of unspeakable cruelty and horror.

I don’t know how anyone can recover from this gruesome monstrosity. Do we mourn the dead infants or weep for those who have just been orphaned? Do we scream for those children who have been maimed, or for the parents who had to wrap their loved ones in white shrouds?

Israeli officials first said the strike was “based on precise intelligence” and claimed that the bombardment targeted a Hamas compound, killing two senior Hamas officials. After global condemnation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instead started calling the strike “a tragic accident.”

The U.S.-made bombs that were dropped on the camp in Tal Al-Sultan came after Israeli airstrikes hit shelters in northern Gaza and Gaza City, killing 160 displaced Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. In Jabalya, at least four people were reportedly killed when a missile hit a residential building during an intense night of shelling. Witnesses reported raging fires throughout the city. Elsewhere in the north, Israeli occupation forces continue to demolish residential neighborhoods, burying countless numbers of people under the rubble. Israeli soldiers were also seen firing on a group of Palestinians filling water containers in the Al-Faluja area.

Israel’s Rafah massacre has been widely condemned as a grave violation of international law, but there has been no clear criticism or outrage from the White House. As the Biden administration emphasizes the deaths of Hamas leaders and utters the same words we’ve become accustomed to hearing over the past eight months — that the U.S. urges Israel to protect civilians and minimize civilian casualties — its statements have become a farce. The inaction on the part of the Biden administration and the continued flow of weapons to the Israeli state as it carries out such massacres in front of the eyes of the entire world — and in defiance of the ICJ ruling — show the extent of the U.S.’s complicity and participation in the Gaza genocide.

I hold the U.S. government responsible for this carnage: For the siege, starvation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza. For the mass destruction of hospitals, clinics, schools, universities, libraries, residential buildings, historic places and infrastructure. And for the total devastation of entire neighborhoods.

By singularly vetoing or abstaining from all United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolutions, the U.S. is the primary enabler of this harrowing nightmare inflicted on the Palestinian people who have lost everything several times over.

We’ve heard President Biden repeat debunked and unfounded claims that he saw photos of beheaded Israeli babies that did not exist – claims his own spokespeople had to walk back. Will silence be his reaction to the real image of a headless Palestinian child from one of Israel’s bloodiest massacres to date? Why doesn’t our president shed tears and speak up when he sees children being burned alive in their tents? How many more inhumane and barbarous acts will it take for the U.S. to end its “unconditional” financial, military and diplomatic support for the Israeli state?

We’ve been watching this horror day in and day out for almost eight months. The scenes of children crushed under tanks, sobbing mothers holding dead loved ones in their arms, and fathers digging sons and daughters from under the rubble leave me speechless.

Israel’s genocidal practices in Gaza prompted numerous countries — Bahrain, South Africa, Jordan, Turkey, Chile, Colombia, Chad, Honduras, and others — to order their ambassadors to return home, sending the Israeli government a clear signal of outrage. Colombia’s president Gustavo Petro has ordered the opening of an embassy in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

In a phone call with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Japan’s Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko told her Israeli counterpart that Tokyo wants to see an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza. She added that the rulings of the ICJ are binding under international law and must “be observed in good faith.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “outraged” by the strikes. Similarly, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, called it “horrifying.”

In a post on X, Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territory wrote: “The #GazaGenocide‌ will not easily end without external pressure: Israel must face sanctions, justice, suspension of agreements, trade, partnership and investments, as well as participation in int’l forums.”

Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières) called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and expressed horror at the massacre, saying it “shows once again that nowhere is safe.”

There are estimated to be around 1.5 million Palestinians stranded in Rafah, the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip close to Egypt’s border, after having been displaced from northern Gaza and Gaza City and pushed there by the Israeli occupation forces to the so-called designated safe zone. In addition to being deprived of food, water and medical aid, they live in unimaginable daily fear of dying as bombs rain down on them from the air, from the sea and from the ground.

The foreign ministers of Spain, Ireland and Norway — the three European nations that have just joined the list of 143 countries in recognizing the State of Palestine — strongly condemned the Sunday massacre and urged Israel to abide by the order of the World Court and stop its assault on Rafah.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of “being complicit in inciting genocide against Jews.”

In retaliation against Spain, Ireland and Norway’s announcement, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he will stop transferring tax funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel has collected taxes on behalf of Palestinians for decades, as a result of agreements signed in the 1990s, and transfers that revenue to the PA each month. A halt of the transfer of such tax revenues will cause severe hardship for the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

In another retaliatory measure in the wake of the ICJ ruling, the Israeli parliament will vote this week on designating UNRWA, the UN Palestinian refugee agency, as a terrorist organization. The aim is to sever all ties with the largest relief agency that provides health and educational services to 5.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as in refugee camps elsewhere in the Middle East.

The author of this bill, Yulia Malinovsky of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, wrote in the introduction: “The purpose of this bill is to declare UNRWA as a terrorist organization for all intents and purposes as well as order the termination of the relations [and the cooperation] of the State of Israel with the agency, either directly or indirectly.”

Israeli officials have openly said they want to destroy UNRWA and stop it from providing services to millions of Palestinian refugees. In January, they accused the UN relief agency of harboring members who were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack, but they were unable to back up their accusation with hard evidence. It was later revealed by Reuters that an UNRWA report concluded that Israel coerced some agency employees to falsely admit Hamas links. As a result, most countries — except for the U.S., U.K., Lithuania, the Netherlands and Austria — have by now reinstated their funding to UNRWA that was cut off when Israel made its false accusation.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza. Hamas killed nearly 1,200 Israelis on October 7 and took 250 hostages. As of May 2024, hostages still held by Hamas number 132, while Israel has 3,424 Palestinian administrative detainees held in its prisons without charge or trial. According to an Egyptian official, the stalled ceasefire and hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas are set to resume in Cairo this week.

It’s hard to fathom how journalists such as New York Times guest columnist James Kirchick can still be arguing this week that “One of the greatest mass delusions of the 21st century is the belief that Israel is committing a genocide against Palestinians.” But at least some segments of the U.S. mainstream appear to finally be grappling with the horror of the current genocide. Aryeh Neier, Jewish co-founder of Human Rights Watch, and former head of the ACLU, was recently invited to speak on CNN about the conclusion that he offered in his New York Review of Books article: that Israel is attempting genocide in its assault on Gaza.

Even as I write this, Israel continues to pound Rafah with artillery shelling causing more Palestinian deaths and wounding scores of civilians. Biden has invoked an Israeli invasion of Rafah as a red line in the past, one that would lessen the flow of U.S. weapons to Israel. Hasn’t that red line been crossed? People of conscience worldwide are calling for an end to genocide. Isn’t it time for the U.S. to end its own complicity?

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