Refugees International Statement on Israel’s Rafah Offensive

“Refugees International is deeply concerned over Israel’s announcement that the IDF is preparing for a ground offensive into Rafah City. Such an operation would have catastrophic results for the civilian population. The United States must use all leverage at its disposal to prevent a humanitarian cataclysm. 

Israel’s military campaign has progressively pushed most of Gaza’s population southward, with approximately a million people – half the territory’s population – now sheltering in Rafah. Most of these people have been displaced from other parts of Gaza – often multiple times. They are surviving in squalid and overcrowded conditions along the Egyptian border with little food and fewer basic services. The extensive destruction of housing and infrastructure in the rest of Gaza due to the indiscriminate nature of the military campaign means there is literally nowhere safe for these people to go. 

The rescue of two Israeli hostage overnight is welcome news, and Refugees International reiterates our longstanding condemnation of Hamas’ hostage-taking, and again calls for the unconditional release of all hostages. But the accompanying military operation again showed wanton disregard for civilian casualties, with one hundred people reportedly killed and hundreds more injured. This underscores the reality that the best way to both protect innocent civilians and secure the safe release of the remaining hostages is an immediate negotiated truce. 

Yesterday, President Biden warned Prime Minister Netanyahu that “a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than 1 million people sheltering” in the city. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned that the Rafah offensive “cannot proceed” under current conditions.  

It is time that the United States put teeth behind these warnings. Last week, President Biden issued the “National Security Memorandum on Safeguards and Accountability with respect to Transferred Defense Articles and Defense Services” (NSM-20). The memorandum requires the Secretary of State to “obtain credible and reliable written assurances” that U.S. weapons will be used in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. The Secretary of State must obtain similar assurances that recipient countries “will facilitate and not arbitrarily deny, restrict, or otherwise impede the delivery” of humanitarian aid supported by the United States. Violations of these conditions should result in the suspension of additional arms transfers or other defense services. 

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has repeatedly flouted these standards, despite more than four months of U.S. pleas to respect international law. President Biden’s latest warnings to Prime Minister Netanyahu will only matter if they come with consequences. If Israel moves forward with its ground offensive into Rafah without heeding U.S. warnings, President Biden should immediately suspend further arms transfers to Israel as envisaged in NSM-20.”