Palestinian displaced families in southern Gaza living in tents. Almost 1.7 million Palestinians displaced since the war started. Photo: NRC/Yousef Hammash

Gaza: Forced and protracted displacement of Palestinians would constitute a serious breach of international law and an atrocity crime

Published 26. Dec 2023
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warns that any attempts by Israel to deport and permanently displace Palestinians within and from Gaza would constitute a serious breach of international law and an atrocity crime.

This concern follows Israel's forcible transfer of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians within Gaza. Palestinians fear further displacement could lead to a refugee crisis like the catastrophic events of 1948, known in Arabic as the 'Nakba'.

As Israeli military operations in Gaza drive civilians closer to its southern borders, the looming possibility of mass deportation of Palestinians to Egypt grows. This alarming prospect follows recent media reports and explicit statements by Israeli officials endorsing such deportation without reasonable justification, proper accommodation in places of refuge, or guarantees of return to homes once hostilities end.

“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,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“Pushing for the irreversible deportation of hundreds of thousands directly undermines resolving this conflict amid decades of a refugee crisis. The international community must unequivocally condemn any forced displacement of Palestinians, whether within or outside the Gaza Strip.

“Every state is obligated to prevent war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide - each constituting atrocity crimes. We urge all states to recognise and fulfill their duty to avert these crimes and any actions that might incite them, using appropriate and necessary measures.

“In this critical moment, the international community must unite, leveraging the UN Security Council and employing diplomatic, humanitarian, and peaceful measures to safeguard all civilians from potential atrocity crimes.”

Israel's extensive destruction of homes and civilian infrastructure, coupled with ongoing bombardment and siege, has made Gaza unlivable and could push the population into forced and protracted displacement across the border, with limited prospects for repatriation.

A staggering 1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza—more than 80 per cent of the population—have been internally displaced. Israel's indiscriminate bombardment across Gaza has damaged over 250,000 housing units, with an additional 50,000 units completely destroyed. Consequently, more than 1 million people in Gaza lack a safe and secure home to return to.

In recent days, Israel has issued additional relocation orders based on safety claims, amid intensified bombardment in southern Gaza even within the areas where people have been ordered to seek refuge. This has forced Palestinians into small, overcrowded pockets where they have set up makeshift tents while they continue to struggle with worsening starvation and a surge in respiratory and water-borne diseases. During these winter months, individuals who have spent weeks on the streets will experience increased vulnerability.

Essential services such as healthcare, education, and protection systems have collapsed. NRC’s team on the ground has struggled to deliver effective aid, facing challenges as their own families have been forcibly displaced four or five times since fleeing their homes in the north under Israeli orders.

“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,” added Egeland.

NRC stresses 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 this suffering and enabling aid workers to deliver crucial relief to those in need.


Notes to editors:

  • According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive. The Statute of the International Criminal Court refers to “the deportation or transfer [by the Occupying Power] of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory” as constituting a war crime in international armed conflicts.
  • The basic rules of international humanitarian law, as well as the prohibition of aggression, the prohibition of genocide, and the prohibition of crimes against humanity, have been codified by the UN International Law Commission as norms universally applicable and hierarchically superior to other rules of international law, from which no derogation is permitted. A gross and systemic breach of such an obligation obligates all states to cooperate in bringing wrongful behavior to an end through lawful means, including countermeasures intended to induce the wrongdoing state to comply with its obligations.
  • The United Nations reports that 1.9 million Gazans have been internally displaced.
  • Over 250,000 housing units and an additional 50,000 units have been completely destroyed by the bombardment. Consequently, more than 1 million people in Gaza lack a safe and secure home to return to (Shelter Cluster).

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