Threat of Forced Displacement in Gaza: A Breach of International Law and Atrocity Crime

Image source, Norwegian Refugee Crisis, NRC

Oslo – The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has issued a grave warning, highlighting the potential for a serious breach of international law and the commission of atrocity crimes if Israel proceeds with the forced and protracted displacement of Palestinians within and from Gaza. The NRC’s concern is rooted in the recent actions of Israel, which has forcibly transferred hundreds of thousands of Palestinians within Gaza, raising fears of a refugee crisis reminiscent of the catastrophic events of 1948, known as the ‘Nakba.’

As Israeli military operations intensify in Gaza, civilians are being driven closer to the southern borders, raising the specter of mass deportations to Egypt. Recent media reports and explicit statements by Israeli officials endorsing such deportations without reasonable justification, proper accommodation, or guarantees of return have amplified these concerns.

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, emphasized, “The forcible transfer and deportation of a significant population across borders, lacking any guarantees of return, would constitute a serious breach of international law, amounting to an atrocity crime.”

The NRC calls upon the international community to condemn any forced displacement of Palestinians, whether within or outside the Gaza Strip. Every state is reminded of its obligation to prevent war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The NRC urges states to recognize and fulfill their duty to avert these crimes and any actions that might incite them, employing appropriate and necessary measures. The organization advocates for a united front, leveraging the UN Security Council and utilizing diplomatic, humanitarian, and peaceful measures to protect civilians from potential atrocity crimes.

Israel’s widespread destruction of homes and civilian infrastructure, coupled with ongoing bombardment and siege, has rendered Gaza uninhabitable, prompting concerns of forced and prolonged displacement across the border with limited prospects for repatriation. More than 80 percent of Gaza’s population, a staggering 1.9 million Palestinians, have been internally displaced, with over 250,000 housing units damaged and an additional 50,000 completely destroyed.

Ongoing relocation orders issued by Israel, based on safety claims, have forced Palestinians into small, overcrowded pockets where makeshift tents have been set up. The winter months add to the vulnerability of individuals who have spent weeks on the streets, facing increased risks of starvation and a surge in respiratory and water-borne diseases. Essential services, including healthcare, education, and protection systems, have collapsed, hindering the effective delivery of aid.

Jan Egeland emphasizes, “Rather than forcing people across borders, all involved parties, including Palestinian armed groups and Israel, must immediately cease hostilities. Israel, in particular, must allow Gaza residents to return to their homes and provide compensation for the extensive damage inflicted on civilian areas in Gaza.”

The NRC underscores that peace is the only viable solution for civilians in Gaza and Israel. A sustained ceasefire and mutually agreed-upon armistice conditions are essential to ending the suffering and enabling aid workers to deliver crucial relief to those in need.

The NRC’s warning serves as a poignant reminder that the principles of international humanitarian law, the prohibition of aggression, genocide, and crimes against humanity, are universally applicable and must be upheld to prevent gross and systemic breaches that jeopardize the well-being of civilians caught in conflict zones.