It would be a simple thing, Netanyahu suggests, for Palestinians to listen to the I.D.F.’s warnings—which come in the form of text messages and announcements and admonitions not to let someone Israel might target live in one’s home—and go. Civilians die, according to this logic, because they didn’t listen to Israel; they listened to Hamas. But there are not “plenty of places” that are safe; there may not be any.
There is, one would think, a special obligation for Israel to take care about the people in the shelters, because those children had gone where it sent them. What sort of calculus is involved in leaving one’s own home for a shelter that might still be hit, or maybe for one of the multigenerational homes in Gaza—where, perhaps, there’s also a second cousin who has something to do with Hamas? Does knowing that you are in danger put all of the burden on you? Does it make you the culpable one if you can’t, or don’t, get away? It may be practical to become a refugee—even to leave Gaza, if one can—but it’s not a gift or, necessarily, a credit to the one who warned you to go. And if Hamas is “making sure that they don’t go anywhere,” what use—practically or morally—are the warnings, not only to the Palestinians but to the Israelis who look to them for reassurance?
The warnings are a form of absolute self-absolution for the slaughter of children that will follow – let alone the unimaginable trauma that so many have experienced that will haunt and cripple them for life. Nothing Israelis are experiencing even comes close to this trauma. It defies any human being who sees it not to feel utter bewilderment at a country that carries on this bombardment from the vantage point of utter moral superiority. Do they not see the cruelty? The utter imbalance of power? Have they lost any human bearings?
Needless to say, the UN is furious at Israel for Wednesday’s shelling of an UNRWA school where 3,000 Gazans had sought shelter:
[U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon] said that the United Nations had provided Israeli military authorities with the precise location and coordinates of the shelter 17 times during the conflict, including a few hours before the attack. Ban’s deputy secretary-general, Jan Eliasson, said that the United Nations found mortar fragments from Israeli shells at the scene of the strike that pointed to Israeli responsibility. “They were aware of the coordinates and exact locations where these people are being sheltered,” Ban said. “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice.”
The remarks were uncharacteristically harsh for the U.N. chief, who has been working closely with Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, and other foreign leaders to hammer out a cease-fire plan that would guarantee Israel’s security while relieving the plight of Gazan civilians, who have borne the brunt of suffering in the conflict.
Washington, meanwhile, somehow managed to condemn the shelling without blaming Israel for it:
“The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians – including children – and UN humanitarian workers,” the White House said. “We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza. We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza. All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the UN’s neutrality. This violence underscores the need to achieve a cease-fire as soon as possible.”
Beauchamp tallies the mass displacement that has resulted from the conflict:
About a quarter of the population of the Gaza Strip may have been displaced during the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas, according to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tally. That is very, very bad — both in humanitarian and political terms. ….
This matters even beyond the immediate dangers and pains of displacement; after the fighting stops, it’s not just a matter of putting displaced persons back in their homes. For one thing, their homes might be destroyed. But even for those whose homes are intact, returning may not be so simple. Patricia Weiss Fagen, a former senior fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, writes that displaced persons “lacked safety, economic opportunities, and essential services” and “may continue to live as strangers and second-class citizens even when they return to their original homes.” The upshot, according to Fagen, is that long-term relief efforts, and not just short-term humanitarian aid, are necessary to help refugees.
(Photo: Palestinian children taking shelter in Salahaddin school in Gaza City are seen on July 31, 2014. Nearly 1900 Palestinians, who escaped from cities of Shujaya and Beit Hanoun under heavy Israeli shelling, live in Salahaddin school. By Onur Coban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)