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VOICES

Time running out 'Invasion of Rafah would be a death sentence for thousands'

Rosamond Bennett of Christian Aid says the world cannot just sit back and let this happen.

PEOPLE IN RAFAH are terrified. Their worst fears were realised yesterday when they received ‘evacuation orders’ telling people in the east of the city to flee their homes because the “IDF is about to operate with great force”.

They have been warned that it is too dangerous to seek safety and return to northern Gaza but also not to head east or south. Their only option is to go west to al-Mawasi, a coastal area packed full of people sharing tents but lacking enough food and water.

However, like all other areas of Gaza, al-Mawasi is no safe zone, and it has not escaped bombardment. Remember, Rafah itself was also designated as ‘safe’ only a few months ago. I was in Gaza myself this time last year and was shocked this weekend to see images of the offices where we met Christian Aid’s partner PARC (Agricultural Development Association), now reduced to rubble.

Christian Aid has heard from our colleagues based in Rafah how many people fear being forced to live in tents that are not able to protect them from the elements, let alone falling debris from aerial strikes. One colleague told us that people prefer to live in the rubble of their destroyed homes than to stay in tents.’

Nowhere to go

Nearly 1.5 million people are currently crammed into Rafah – five times its original population. This is the equivalent of the population of Dublin squeezed into an area around the size of Galway. The vast majority will have been displaced many times over the past seven months of near relentless bombardment.

The human cost of a full-scale invasion of Rafah cannot be overstated. “Hundreds of thousands of people would be at imminent risk of death” according to the UN’s humanitarian agency.

Up to now, Rafah has been the aid hub for the entirety of Gaza – the crucial entry point for the limited amount of aid that gets in and is distributed throughout the strip. The current escalation has now caused the closure of both the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, meaning no food, aid or fuel has been able to enter for the past 24 hours. It’s also preventing medical evacuations for those at death’s door from illness or injury.

Hunger is widespread. Rafah-based colleagues from Christian Aid’s longstanding Irish Aid-funded partner, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), told me that even before the current closure of the aid crossings, some families were surviving by sharing just two small 250g cans of beans a day. They added that most people are now showing signs of malnutrition and in some cases, people with special health conditions are dying for lack of fresh food.

Famine

Northern Gaza is already sliding into full-blown famine. The World Food Programme has stated that one of the three thresholds for an official famine declaration – an extreme lack of food – has been met and that another – 30% of children suffering severe malnutrition – is likely to be reached very soon. The third threshold relating to the numbers dying each day will be impossible to verify until the fighting ceases.

The scale of devastation across Gaza is almost impossible to comprehend. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, and another 10,000 people are missing under the rubble, presumed dead. Another 78,000 are injured but unlikely to receive the treatment they need because the healthcare system is in a state of total collapse.

We have heard from colleagues from our medical partner in Gaza, Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), how “in the morning we are working in the health centre, in the afternoon we go to help people bury the bodies of those who have died.”

People in Rafah are bracing themselves for a calamity. A full-scale ground invasion of Rafah would be a death sentence for thousands of civilians. The world cannot just sit back and let this happen.

What is taking place in Rafah and right across Gaza will go down in the history books as one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen. It is a dark stain on the conscience of the international community. Countries that continue to back Israel with military, financial and political support, particularly the US, UK and EU member states, need to ask what side of history they want to be on.

If we are to prevent further bloodshed and needless loss of life, then these countries must urgently change course and do all they can within their power to prevent the assault on Rafah. They must redouble efforts to secure an immediate and permanent ceasefire and take real, meaningful steps to deliver it.

Rosamond Bennett is the Chief Executive of Christian Aid Ireland. To support Christian Aid’s Middle East Crisis Appeal visit: https://caid.ie/MiddleEastAppeal.

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