What chances do war-displaced Palestinians in Gaza have of returning to their homes?

Analysis What chances do war-displaced Palestinians in Gaza have of returning to their homes?
According to Oxfam, those that have stayed number in the hundreds of thousands, even with repeated Israeli warnings for civilians to abandon the northern regions and head south. (AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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What chances do war-displaced Palestinians in Gaza have of returning to their homes?

What chances do war-displaced Palestinians in Gaza have of returning to their homes?
  • Over a seven-week period, Israel’s military has reduced much of once densely populated part of Gaza to rubble
  • More than 1 million Palestinians have fled the enclave’s north, including Gaza City, considered the urban center

LONDON: Following a seemingly successful pause in hostilities, questions are mounting over the fate of Palestinians displaced by the war in Gaza and what hopes they have of returning home if, and when, news breaks of a permanent cessation of hostilities.

In the more than 50 days of constant shelling, Israel’s military has turned much of northern Gaza into a moonscape with entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble.

The homes, hospitals and schools that remain standing are by no means fit to return to, with expectations that authorities will have to go house to house, building to building to determine what level of reconstruction Gazans require.

Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations and associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House, told Arab News questions about Palestinians’ return were “heart-breaking.”

“It is a good question to ask but it is also a heart-breaking one because of the level and sheer scale of the destruction, and this is before the war has even been brought to an end and we still do not know if Israel intends to continue offensives further into the south,” Mekelberg said.




UK-based conflict monitor Airwars called the bombings the most intense since the Second World War

“We do know that some Gazans who fled their homes in the north have returned, or tried to return, to see whether their houses are still standing … they were not.”

Over the course of this latest eruption of violence in the more than 75-year-long conflict, it is believed that in excess of one million Palestinians have fled the north of Gaza, including from Gaza City, considered the urban center of the enclave.

Israel’s military may have described the air campaign as unavoidable but emphasizing the sheer scale, UK-based conflict monitor Airwars called it the most intense since the Second World War.

Director of Airwars Emily Tripp told Arab News that this assessment was based on drawing a comparison with the nine-month Battle of Mosul between 2016 and 2017 which, once it ended, had left 80 percent of the city uninhabitable according to the UN and other experts.

“At the time, the US assessed Mosul as the most intense urban battleground since the Second World War and our data shows no more than 6,000 munitions dropped in a single month,” Tripp said.

“If the initial IDF statement of 6,000 munitions dropped in that first week to 10 days holds true, then by the time of the temporary pause last week, it is likely that the IDF has dropped more munitions than the coalition in any month of the campaign against Daesh.”




“There are not enough resources to host over 1.1 million people in the other governorates,” said Oxfam policy lead Bushra Khalidi. (AP)

Speaking to PBS, Yousef Hammash, a Norwegian Refugee Council aid worker who fled south from the ruins of the Jabaliya refugee camp, said he saw no future for his children where they had ended up and wanted “to go home even if I have to sleep on the rubble of my house.”

A 31-year-old taxi driver, Mahmoud Jamal, told the same broadcaster that when he fled Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, he “couldn’t tell which street or intersection I was passing.”

Efforts to keep up-to-date with the scale of damage are hampered by Israeli restrictions on access to Gaza, but in the second week of November the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights suggested at that point about 45 percent of housing stock had been destroyed.

Sources told Arab News that, despite the level of damage, it was “unsurprising” that many Palestinians in Gaza were wary of leaving their homes, but said it remained the safest option.

One said: “In an ideal world, civilians would be able to go somewhere for a short time and come back but there are always concerns that to say they should leave for their safety could be construed as supporting the contention that Israel is looking to ethnically cleanse Gaza.”

INNUMBERS

• 45 percent Fraction of Gaza housing stock destroyed.

• 6k Shells dropped in a single week in Gaza.

• 1.1m Gaza residents without homes or shelter.

According to Oxfam, those that have stayed number in the hundreds of thousands, even with repeated Israeli warnings for civilians to abandon the northern regions and head south.

Oxfam policy lead Bushra Khalidi, herself based in Ramallah, said Israel’s calls for civilians to relocate south, in the absence of any guarantee of safety or return, amounted to forcible transfer, describing it “as a grave breach of international humanitarian law that must be reversed.”

“There are not enough resources to host over 1.1 million people in the other governorates,” she told Arab News.

“Shelters, aid, water are already in low supply in the south. There is no guarantee that civilians will find refuge in other parts of Gaza. Those who stay behind in northern Gaza cannot be deprived of their protection as civilians.

“The US, UK, EU and other Western and Arab countries that have influence over the Israeli political and military leadership must demand Israel immediately rescind the order to relocate.”




Israel’s military has turned much of northern Gaza into a moonscape with entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble. (AP)

In the face of an apparent lack of leadership from those in positions to influence Israel’s actions in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces seems to be in no mood for leniency, having urged those Gazans to have already relocated to relocate again, this time to Muwasi on the coast.

For his part, Mekelberg, noting that when it came to this conflict there was a tendency for the “temporary to become permanent,” said the question becomes one of “where next for Palestinian civilians?”

With 70 percent of Gaza’s prewar population already classified as refugees after having been displaced from other parts of Palestine at various stages of the decades-long conflict, Israel’s intelligence service seemed to have answered that with reported plans to send them to Sinai.

The proposal, subsequently denied by the Israeli government, drew sharp condemnation from Palestinians and Egypt, with Mekelberg citing the latter’s concern of Hamas fighters entering.

“We know that what starts as temporary becomes permanent, and we know this because, 75 years on, there are still Palestinians, who having been displaced in 1946, are still in other countries and this reality is compounding the difficulties of housing refugees,” he said.

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Such concerns have been reflected in statements by Arab leaders. Jordan’s King Abdullah has been direct in saying there were to be “no refugees in Jordan,” while the country’s foreign minister has warned Israel not to leave a mess for other countries to clear up.

Mekelberg said that “if governments suspect this war of being an Israeli effort to ethnically cleanse Gaza,” they would unsurprisingly be less than keen to help.”

Even so, he stressed that in the immediate term it was “paramount” to find safe harbor for the civilian population but given the surrounding politics and availability, or lack thereof, of much-needed humanitarian aid this was proving difficult.

Pointing to international humanitarian law, Khalidi said no country could refuse those fleeing war access and safe refuge.

Nonetheless, she also said states had to be cognizant of the fact that ­­­— given the Palestinians already displaced in Gaza and denied their right to return by Israel — any support they offered may inadvertently play into the hands of actors looking to ethnically cleanse the enclave.




“There is no guarantee that civilians will find refuge in other parts of Gaza,” said Oxfam policy lead Bushra Khalidi. (AFP)

With more questions than answers, Mekelberg said a complete rethink was required on how such situations were managed and the obligations and rights of those caught up in conflict.

“As far as Gazans in the present are concerned, winter isn’t coming, it is already there. If you have one instance of heavy rain pouring down and into a sewage system that before the Israeli bombing was struggling, what you will be left with is a huge health crisis,” he said.

“In the face of this, there must be a concerted international effort to establish refugee camps, to supply them with all that is needed, and to keep people safe.”

Right now, he said, we were witnessing a “very unhappy situation” but stressed international support had to be there when the fighting ends, with Gazans helped in both the rebuilding of their homes and, in cases where they were relocated, ensuring they got back to them.

Khalidi added: “An individual must have the right to live safely and peacefully in their homeland.”


Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Updated 9 sec ago
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Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three Hezbollah fighters were killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a house in southern Lebanon, a source close to the Iran-backed group told AFP.
“Three Hezbollah fighters were killed, and two others seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike on a house in the area of Al-Jebbayn,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported earlier on Saturday that “enemy aircraft carried out a strike targeting a house in Al-Jebbayn, and rescue teams were headed to the area.”
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment.
Since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in Gaza, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In northern Israel, 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed, according to the army.
In recent days, Hezbollah has intensified its attacks against Israeli military positions, with tensions across the Middle East surging.
On April 13, Iran, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 air strike which levelled its consulate in Damascus.

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
Updated 8 min 21 sec ago
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Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again

Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as Gaza bombed again
  • Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago
  • The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike widely blamed on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has dismissed as akin to child’s play Israel’s reported retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, as both sides on Saturday appeared to step back from wider conflict stemming from the war in Gaza.
However, a deadly blast at an Iraqi military base emphasized the high tensions which persist in the region, as did more deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza and intensifying clashes in the West Bank.
Fears have soared this month that escalating tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Iran could tip over into a broader war in the Middle East.
Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago in its first-ever direct attack on its arch enemy’s territory.
The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike — widely blamed on Israel — that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards on April 1.
The Israeli retaliation appeared to come on Friday, when Iranian media reported blasts in the central province of Isfahan.
Fars news agency reported “three explosions” close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army air base.
“What happened last night was no attack,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News.
“It was the flight of two or three quadcopters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran,” he added.
“As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”
Israeli officials have made no public comment on what — according to a senior US congressional source who spoke to AFP — were retaliatory Israeli strikes against Iran.
Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the reported Israeli strike had been “calibrated to avoid damage and further Iranian aggression.”
Iranian political expert Hamid Gholamzadeh said the incident in Isfahan, while “insignificant,” needs to be seen in the context of the “fight for balance of power” between the two countries.
“The region is on fire and an all-out war can be ignited any moment,” he said.
While tensions rose after the attack on Iran’s consulate, violence involving Iran-backed groups had already been surging across the Middle East since the outbreak of the Gaza war.
Officials in Iraq said one person was killed and eight wounded in an explosion at a military base south of Baghdad housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Since the Gaza war began, violence has also flared in the other occupied Palestinian territory, the West Bank.
The Israeli army said Saturday that its forces killed 10 militants and arrested eight other people during a 40-hour raid on a refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry said 11 people were wounded in the Israeli raid, including a paramedic who was shot trying to get to the wounded.
Israel has faced growing global opposition over its military offensive in Gaza, which has reduced vast areas of the besieged Palestinian territory to rubble, while aids groups have warned the north is on the brink of famine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure over the rising civilian toll, needs “further escalation and another war to distract the world attention” away from suffering in Gaza, Iranian analyst Gholamzadeh said.
There have been particular fears about Israel’s intention to send troops into the southernmost city of Rafah, where most of the population is now sheltering having fled violence elsewhere.
Foreign ministers of the G7 group of developed economies, meeting in Italy on Friday, said they opposed a “full-scale military operation in Rafah” because it would have “catastrophic consequences” for civilians.
But even without a full operation, the city has been under regular bombardment.
On Saturday, Gaza’s Civil Defense agency said an overnight Israeli strike in Rafah killed nine members of a family including six children.
Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said the Israeli army had also hit several other areas of Rafah overnight, adding: “It has been a very hard night.”
The war was triggered by an attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel has responded with a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,049 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel’s military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day, including the site in north Gaza from which a rocket was fired into the Israeli city of Sderot.
Witnesses in the central Nuseirat refugee camp said the Israeli army told them to evacuate one home, then several were destroyed.
“They instruct us to evacuate and return later, but where do we go back? To ruins?” asked resident Abu Ibrahim.
“How long will this farce continue?“
A UN report on Friday said “multiple obstacles” continue to impede delivery of urgently needed aid.
Despite some recent aid convoys being able to reach Gaza, the WFP cited “the real possibility of famine” in the north.
Efforts to seal a long sought-after truce have stalled, according to mediator Qatar.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch critic of Israel’s war in Gaza, met with Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday, calling for unity among Palestinians.
After Washington vetoed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member state earlier this week, president Mahmud Abbas said his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would “reconsider” its relationship with the US.


Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
Updated 20 April 2024
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Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
  • The meeting ‘is part of president’s attempts to reposition himself as credible defender of Palestinian cause,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels

ANKARA: The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday has sparked debate over Turkiye’s attempts to play a greater mediating role for the Palestinian cause amid domestic controversies over the ruling government, which has lost support among its conservative electoral base since local elections last month.
Haniyeh’s visit is his first meeting with Erdogan in Turkiye since the start of the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
For Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, the meeting is part of Erdogan’s attempts to reposition himself as a credible defender of the Palestinian cause after his recent electoral defeat.
“Hosting the Hamas leader is likely to reinforce the impression in the West that Turkiye is at best a transactional partner, not an ally,” he said.
Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels. The country has also strongly criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which Erdogan previously described as genocide. Hamas also established a presence in Istanbul in 2011, although not on par with its political office in Doha.
Ankara has also been a major humanitarian donor to Gaza, alongside several Gulf states, and has actively helped several Palestinians from Gaza receive medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.
“I will continue to defend the Palestinian struggle and be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people as long as Allah gives me life, even if I am left alone,” Erdogan said in his speech to parliament last Wednesday.
The Turkish president has always been on friendly terms with Haniyeh.
In a recent phone call to the Hamas leader, Erdogan offered his condolences after three of his sons were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it has committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to an AFP report.
For Betul Dogan Akkas, assistant professor of international relations at the department of international relations at Ankara University, given the current fragile situation in Gaza, there is a significant need for the mediation efforts by Qatar and Turkiye.
“With Haniyeh and other officials based in Qatar, there is now a more effective political bureau compared to the past. The current military balance in Gaza is very critical; they are cornered in Rafah. On the other hand, Hamas needs to build a more strategic power,” she told Arab News.
Akkas thinks that if this Saturday’s visit of Haniyeh contributes to further collaboration between Turkiye and Hamas to address that strategic power deficiency, it would be meaningful.
“Haniyeh could take on a more effective role due to Gaza’s current situation because they need a way out,” she added.
Domestically, however, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, has come under heavy criticism for its flourishing and uninterrupted trade with Israel, even during its military offensive in Gaza.
The AKP’s Islamist rival, the New Welfare Party or YRP, played this trade card during the local elections on March 31, highlighting Erdogan’s failure to halt economic ties with Israel despite his harsh rhetoric against the Jewish state.
The YRP accused the government of applying double standards by strongly criticizing Israel while continuing trade relations. After the elections, the YRP won some local administrations previously held by the AKP.
Turkiye’s exports to Israel exceeded $5.4 billion in 2023, accounting for 2.1 percent of its total exports, according to official data.
Following nationwide criticism, the Turkish Trade Ministry recently imposed restrictions on some 54 categories of exports to Israel, including cement, steel, machinery, construction materials, chemical compounds, and several metal products, and these restrictions are expected to remain in place until Israel declares a ceasefire in Gaza.
On April 16, Erdogan compared Hamas to Turkish independence fighters who resisted foreign occupiers during the liberation of the country and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923.
His comments were seen as one of the most blatant endorsements by the Turkish leader since the start of the war in October.
According to Piccoli, while such words may play well with domestic audiences, they are unlikely to be welcomed in Western capitals, including Washington.
Erdogan will make his first official visit to the US since the election of President Joe Biden in 2020 on 9 May. The Palestinian cause is expected to feature in the talks.
Piccoli believes that Haniyeh’s visit is unlikely to lead to any concrete Turkish action against Israel.
“The economic restrictions and Haniyeh’s visit reflect Turkiye’s desire to ensure that the Gaza conflict is not overshadowed by tensions between Israel and Iran, including the Iranian attacks of April 13-14 and the Israeli strikes on Isfahan in the early hours of April 19,” he said.
Earlier this week, Erdogan blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, Piccoli added.
On the other hand, how Turkiye will be able to mediate between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators is raising concerns, especially after Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
The fate of the hostages held by Hamas since Oct. 7 will also be a source of concern for such mediation efforts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Qatar April 16-17 and met with Haniyeh and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al -Thani.
Turkiye was to host intense diplomatic negotiations on Saturday as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also expected to travel to the country to discuss the situation in Gaza with Fidan.
For Piccoli, while the recent negotiations may go some way to assuaging domestic public anger, the Erdogan government’s outreach to Hamas is likely to reinforce the impression in the US and the EU that Turkiye is no longer aligned with the West and is now — at best — a potential partner rather than an ally.
For the moment, Erdogan has been cautious about commenting on his meeting with Haniyeh.
“We will keep the agenda between us and Mr.Haniyeh,” he said when questioned by journalists on Friday.


Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
Updated 20 April 2024
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Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says

Palestinians to reconsider US ties after veto of bid for full UN membership, Abbas says
  • Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership

CAIRO: The Palestinian Authority will reconsider bilateral relations with the US after Washington vetoed a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview with the official WAFA news agency.


Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
Updated 20 April 2024
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Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid

Israel says its forces kill 10 militants in West Bank raid
  • “Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said
  • Eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid

TULKARM, Palestinian Territories: The Israeli army said Saturday that its security forces killed 10 militants in an ongoing raid around Nur Shams, a refugee camp in the north of the occupied West Bank.
“Security forces eliminated 10 terrorists during encounters” over more than 40 hours, the army said in a statement.
The army said eight soldiers and a police officer had been injured in the raid.
An AFP journalist in nearby Tulkarem heard gunshots and blasts coming from Nur Shams on Saturday.
Residents contacted by AFP said there was a power outage and food was running short in the camp, saying nobody was allowed to enter or leave.
Since early last year violence has flared across the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The violence has further escalated since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7.
Israeli forces say their frequent raids in the West Bank target Palestinian militants, but civilians are often among the dead.
Around 480 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops or settlers in the West Bank since the Hamas assault on Israel triggered the Gaza war, according to Palestinian official sources.