Politics Analysis

The destruction of an entire civil society on the Gaza Strip

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UNRWA estimate 450,000 Palestinians have been forcibly displaced in Rafah (Screenshot via YouTube)

As the Israeli invasion of Rafah forcibly displaces hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, civil society in Gaza continues to be decimated, Dr Ibrahim Natil writes.

THE MASSIVE DESTRUCTION caused by the Israeli military machines imposed real barriers to civil society in the Gaza Strip, since October 2023.

This war of seven months now has created a new Nakba for Palestinian families who were displaced more than five times in the Gaza Strip, during this war.

The first Nakba happened for the Palestinians when they were forced to displace and leave their homes in historical Palestine in 1948 – which is today Israel – when it was established by the same policy of destroying their civil society, uprooting their villages and killing thousands of Palestinians.

The current disaster has already made hundreds of thousands of families displaced while the Israeli occupation is not allowing them to return to their houses in Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip.

In this war, Israel killed more than 35,000 and left families with devastating psychological, social and financial problems — while uncovering mass graves in and around three hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

The current war on the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, on October 7th, 2023 shows Israel's appetite for destroying the Palestinian civil society, not truly hunting Hamas’ fighters.

Israel indiscriminately targeted hospitals, civil institutions, schools, roads, mosques, cultural sites, historical places and churches. Such places include the Orthodox Cultural Center in Gaza, which was destroyed by the Israeli bombardment while some 500 people used it as a shelter in the Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood in the southern part of Gaza City.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, remarks that the Hamas attack on southern Israel, on October 7th “did not happen in a vacuum”

Guterres believes the roots of the current war go beyond this date — decades ago as he said. The UN Secretary-General said the international humanitarian law must be respected too. Guterres called repeatedly for a humanitarian ceasefire — it was not respected by the Israelis.

Ignoring International calls for ceasefire

All UN and international organisations have documented the war on the Gaza Strip independently, with emphasis on the current horrific humanitarian disaster facing the Palestinian people since October 2023 as UNRWA predicts the streets of Rafah to soon be empty as families continue to flee in search of safety.

UNRWA estimate that nearly 450,000 people have been forcibly displaced from Rafah since 6 May. People face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe. An immediate ceasefire is the only hope.

Not only the Palestinians face these risks, but also international staff who are targeted — as happened to seven staff members of the World Central Kitchen (WCK) on April 1 2024, in a targeted attack by Israelis that forced the WCK to suspend operations in Gaza.

Despite global condemnation for killing them and hindering the access of international media to the Gaza Strip, Israeli occupation killed on May 12 2024 Waibhav Anil Kale, India national who worked as a UN security coordination officer in Rafah, when their vehicle came under attack.

The attacks on humanitarian organisations such as UNRWA have taken various ranges internationally and locally. 

The Gazans whose houses were destroyed are now seeking shelter as they wait for the aid needed to survive and, hopefully, rebuild the Strip once again. They have been living in inhumane conditions. Now relying on donor assistance, living conditions are becoming more dire without access to basic food and water for months while imposing full closure under continuous bombardments.

Waiting for a hope under fire

The destruction of the Gaza Strip and the resulting humanitarian crisis has put pressure on the international community for a cease-fire first, now.

This must be followed by a recovery plan, as the destruction of infrastructure is estimated in the first four months of the war on Gaza at about US$18.5 billion (A$27.7 billion). The damage was equivalent to 97 per cent of the combined GDP of the occupied West Bank and Gaza in 2022.

The Interim Damage Assessment Note on Gaza stated that:

“The level of destruction in the Gaza Strip since October 2023 is unprecedented."

This war has created a new environment of massive destruction of civil society such as schools, hospitals and institutions. In other words, it has destroyed everything for the Palestinians to live in dignity and peace.

These violations of international law and human rights by the Israeli occupation forces have put pressure on many countries — as seen in the students’ uprisings, which began in the U.S. and spread to the UK, France, Switzerland and Ireland.

There has been massive engagement of civil society groups in public diplomacy campaigns to advocate Palestine's right to existence. 

More importantly, countries such as Spain and Ireland have taken a way forward to recognise the Palestine state by the end of this month.

Dr Ibrahim Natil has published a number of works and books and is a civil society activist and human rights campaigner.

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