Why all eyes are on Rafah at the moment

Over the past couple of days, the phrase ‘All Eyes are On Rafah’ has gained notable popularity, a slogan of protest against Israel’s bombing of the place of refuge. It has been said by people ranging from the head of the World Health Organisation to millions of social media users, as the hashtag trends on various platforms. Individuals across the political spectrum are united in their concern for those trapped in Rafah, who may soon face an even more catastrophic humanitarian crisis than we have already witnessed in the region.

Prior to the outbreak of war between Israel and Palestine (beginning on October 7th of last year), Rafah was known to be a small region Southwest of Gaza which, in 2017, housed 171,889 Palestinians. However, due to heavy bombing of Gaza, many have been forced to flee to the region, to the point that it is now estimated to contain 1.4 million people, although the exact number is difficult to determine. Unsurprisingly, many are living in appalling conditions, and there is a lack of access to food or shelter due to the overcrowding. One medic interviewed by BBC news reported that he lived among 20 people in two rooms, without access to water and with many of his friends suffering from flu, cholera, diarrhoea, scabies, hepatitis A etc… due to the lack of sanitation locally and limited aid reaching civilians. However, perhaps even more pressing of a question than how people can look after themselves in such a state of affairs is where they can go next; Rafah’s location makes it impossible to escape from if Israel go ahead with their offensive. The border crossing into Egypt is closed to Palestinians, and Rafah is next to the Mediterranean Sea on one side with Israel on the other; civilians are cornered in what was meant to be the safe haven.

On February 9th it became clear that Netanyahu was planning to launch an assault on the area, as he ordered Israeli forces to submit a plan for evacuating Rafah. Then just three days later, while many were distracted watching the Super Bowl, Israel launched one of the deadliest bombing campaigns so far. At least 68 Palestinians were killed during the course of two hours, and more bodies are presumed to be under the rubble. At least 15 residential buildings were targeted along with 2 mosques and agricultural lands to limit the already dwindling supply of food available to civilians. 

Many world leaders, even those formerly on the side of Israel have called on Netanyahu to limit the IDF’s attacks. On Monday, Biden warned that Israel, ‘should not proceed without a credible plan of safety,’ for civilians, which follows from his comments last week that Israel’s retaliation to October 7th and the hostage situation has been ‘over the top’. David Cameron (our foreign secretary) has stated that Israel should, ‘think seriously’ before acting more in Rafah, and Sunak has told Netanyahu that the UK is ‘deeply concerned about…the potentially devastating humanitarian impact of a military incursion into Rafah.’ The EU’s foreign policy chief Joseph Borell has urged allies of Israel to stop sending them weapons due to the exceedingly high death toll so far.  In a joint letter, Pedro Sanchez and Leo Varadkar (the Prime Ministers of Spain and Ireland respectively) have requested the European commission urgently review whether Israel is complying with its human rights obligations, and stated that attacking Rafah posed, ‘a grave and imminent threat that the international community must urgently confront.’ The Prime ministers of Belgium and Germany have expressed concern about the potential for catastrophe, as has the head of the Arab league. The feelings of the international community are clear, and yet we may still witness a genocide in Rafah before our eyes. However, we as observers do not simply have to hope that these comments pay off and sit back: we can help in whatever ways we are able to. There are a multitude of aid agencies attempting to provide support to vulnerable people living through these atrocities, and any donations to these will be valued.








Image: Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

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