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Millions protest as Netanyahu considers mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza

By Layan Fuleihan*
For the past five months, in every part of the globe, millions of people have participated in protest actions. They have been part of one of the largest social movements in living memory, in support of the Palestinian people and against the U.S.-Israeli genocide in Gaza. Now, Israel is threatening to carry out the worst massacre yet: a full-scale invasion of Rafah starting March 10.

In response, millions around the world marched in support of Gaza on March 2 as Israel's deadline for an invasion of the enclave's southern city of Rafah approaches. In what organisers called a Global Day of Action, specifically "Hands Off Rafah", protesters from diverse backgrounds took to the streets of hundreds of cities -- from Seattle to Seoul.
As Israel's continuous bombing of Gaza enters its sixth month, the conflict is seeing several grim milestones, including the deaths of at least 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza and 70,000 wounded. Supporters of the Palestinian cause have long argued that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its 17-year land, air, and sea blockade of Gaza, have turned the enclave into an open-air prison.
Over 2 million Gazans are packed into a tiny area closed off to the outside world. As the Israeli military rampaged through the four other governorates of Gaza, 1.5 million Palestinians were driven into Rafah, making the open-air prison even tinier.
This is an area half the size of San Francisco. It is now twice as densely populated as New York City. There is nowhere to hide and nowhere left to flee as the U.S.-supplied Israeli air force bombards Rafah in preparation for a catastrophic ground offensive. With 70 percent of all residential housing in Gaza destroyed and 576,000 Gazans facing outright famine, Israel’s mandatory evacuation orders are nothing more than an empty gesture. Israeli officials know well that the over one million displaced Gazans are not in a physical condition to flee once again.
For the past five months, Israel has massacred Palestinians with bullets, missiles, and bombs, and now are escalating the use of another weapon: hunger. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the 500,000 Palestinians remaining in northern Gaza now face starvation. The UN agency also reported that there have been no aid deliveries to the north of Gaza since January 23. Along the border between Rafah and Egypt, Israel routinely halts all but a few token aid shipments. Meanwhile, its soldiers have facilitated “protests” by far-right activists against aid delivery along the border, giving the authorities cover to deny entry to trucks carrying vital supplies.
A new study by scholars at Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine gives us a horrific preview of what the consequences of an invasion of Rafah under these dire circumstances would look like.
Researchers found that up to 86,000 Palestinians would die in the onslaught over the course of six months. Many of these would be so-called excess deaths – people dying of starvation, preventable disease, and other causes present only because of the war.
Fearing the unprecedented global outrage that would come with an all-out Rafah invasion, some politicians like EU foreign affairs head Josep Borrell have felt compelled to state their opposition. This is an important crack in the alliance between Western powers and Israel.
If Israel instead becomes mainly a liability that damages U.S. standing in the world by virtue of its extreme abuses, then it could be abandoned by its sponsors just like the South African apartheid regime was at the end of the 1980s.
However, the true will of these politicians to protect Palestinians in Rafah should also be questioned. Joe Biden, for example, says that he would only support an invasion if there were “a credible plan” to protect civilians. One must ask how civilian life could ever be protected when bombing an area with 60,000 people per square mile, hundreds of thousands of whom have only the cloth of a tent to shield them.
The only way to protect Palestinian civilians would be to demand Israel end its assault on Gaza and cut off military aid. This financial support totals $3.8 billion a year from the United States and has only increased during these months of escalated genocide. Instead, Biden and the politicians in Congress are trying to send an additional $14 billion more to Israel. Far from dissuading Israel, the U.S. wants to send money so that Israel can take its war even further.

Negotiations without negotiating

Even though the Israeli forces have been unable to defeat the Palestinian resistance after over four months of full-scale assault, the Netanyahu government is already hatching schemes to impose a permanent military dictatorship on the occupied Gaza territory.
On February 23, Netanyahu presented a plan that envisions total Israeli control over Gaza indefinitely, with the help of unnamed “local officials.” The Israeli military would have total freedom of movement throughout Gaza to terrorize Palestinians at will. The Biden administration’s counterproposal to install a version of the deeply unpopular Palestinian Authority in Gaza is still a total negation of Palestine’s right to self-determination.
Israeli officials, including members of far-right parties serving in Netanyahu’s cabinet, have openly articulated their dream of the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and their replacement by Jewish-only settlements. A conference held in December attended by 11 members of the Israeli cabinet and 15 members of Parliament even went so far as to propose a map of where 21 of these settlements would be located.
Meanwhile, in the latest round of negotiations Israel has still refused to meet any of the demands of the Palestinian resistance groups. The latest proposal sent to Hamas outlines a plan for a temporary and partial pause that provides no framework for permanent ceasefire and maintains Israeli control over large parts of the territory -- non-starters in any serious talks. In this context, Biden’s promise of a ceasefire by next Monday appears to be an attempt to increase pressure on Hamas to accept the obviously unacceptable proposal and evade condemnation from his own constituents.
The U.S.-Israeli position has never experienced a defeat in the arena of public opinion as it is experiencing now, and the pressure of mass mobilizations has been a major factor in this defeat. As the threat of a full-scale invasion of Rafah grows closer, it is clear to activists that this is a moment when mobilization can have an even more critical impact, and pressure on the defenders of genocide can prevent this nightmare from becoming a reality.
The Palestinian people have displayed the most courageous resistance and determination in the face of the brutal U.S.-Israeli genocidal assault. Generation after generation, Palestinians have kept up the fight to return to their homeland. Now, the people of the world stand with them like never before.
The March 2 global demonstrations were a powerful expression of this sentiment.
---
*Popular educator and organizer; education director of the People’s Forum; editor of 1804 Books in New York City. This article was produced by Globetrotter

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