Ever since Israel ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza ahead of a widely anticipated ground offensive there, Palestinian civilians have been fleeing in panic to the south. But with both Israel and Egypt having closed their borders with Gaza, civilians remain trapped in the territory amid the escalating war. As a result, Israel’s evacuation order has generated severe criticism.
Human rights organizations have said that uprooting civilians is scarcely a solution while the entire enclave is under siege and without food or electricity. In a rare public statement about a particular party to a conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the evacuations “are not compatible with international humanitarian law.” And United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted that Israel reconsider its order.
From the Israeli military’s perspective, Hamas’ recent actions have placed it in an infuriating bind. Militarily removing Hamas from power in Gaza seems like the only viable option after the group’s brutal attack on the civilian population of southern Israel on Oct. 7. Yet with Hamas hiding among its own civilians, Israel faces opprobrium for every Palestinian life lost in its current aerial bombardment campaign, and that backlash will only grow in the event of a bloody ground battle. Under such circumstances, from the Israeli perspective, encouraging civilians to flee seems appropriate and even humane compared to Hamas’ willful targeting of Israeli civilians or the alternative—an even greater loss of civilian life during bombardment and a potential ground invasion. As an Israeli military spokesperson tweeted, “We are trying to do the right thing by calling on civilians to evacuate, yet get lectured on humanity.”