Biden administration pushes for ‘low intensity’ conflict as displacement out of desperation becomes a greater reality for Palestinians
Biden’s public pledge to oppose the forced displacement of Palestinians from the besieged enclave is looking increasingly tenuous amid a humanitarian crisis brewing in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.
Stark warnings that social order is breaking down in southern Gaza, with the potential to send hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians across the border to Egypt, is testing one of US President Joe Biden’s clearest red lines on Israel’s offensive, current and former US officials told Middle East Eye.
“We seem to be on the glide path to displacement by desperation,” William Usher, a former senior Middle East analyst at the CIA, told MEE. “That would be an embarrassment for the Biden administration, which is clearly growing more frustrated with Israel.”
Roughly 90 percent of Gaza’s population – 1.9 million Palestinians – are internally displaced as a result of Israel’s offensive, with about one million of those now boxed into tiny Rafah, where they are living in squalid conditions under Israeli bombardment.
Palestinians in Rafah have been forced to sleep on the street and in makeshift tents. The UN has documented the outbreak of chicken pox, meningitis, jaundice, and respiratory infections because of severe overcrowding, and says Palestinians are now defecating outside due to a lack of latrines. Poor sanitation is causing diarrhea.
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On Wednesday, UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini warned that “civil order was breaking down” in Rafah.
“The sight of a truck carrying humanitarian assistance now provokes chaos,” he said. “People are hungry. They stop the truck and ask for food, and they eat it on the street. I witnessed this first-hand.”
‘What the administration would like to see is the kind of counter-insurgency the US conducted in Afghanistan’
– Abbas Dahouk, Fmr Senior US military advisor
“It is unrealistic to think that people will remain resilient in the face of unlivable conditions of such magnitude,” he said, “especially when the border is so close.”
His comments follow a warning from UN chief Antonio Guterres on Sunday that there was “increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt”.
Just as thousands more Palestinians stream into Rafah to escape Israel’s southern offensive, the packed border town is in the Israeli military’s cross-hairs. At least twenty-six Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike on Rafah this week, according to Palestinian health officials in Gaza.
“You put everything together and it’s not haphazard or accidental. It’s impossible not to draw the conclusion that Israel’s ultimate goal is to force people over the border,” Khaled Elgindy, director of the Middle East Insitute’s programme on Israeli-Palestinian affairs, told MEE.
The UN’s warnings come as the US increases its public criticism of Israel, exposing a new unease with its ally’s offensive.
US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Israel was losing support globally because it was carrying out an “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza. He later said Israel should focus on saving civilian lives.