Israel is preparing to launch a ground assault against Rafah, where one million refugees are sheltered. Responsibility for the bloodbath won’t belong just to the invaders — this is the West’s genocide too.

Citizens queue for food as famine and an imminent ground invasion loom in Rafah, Gaza. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

On Sunday night, the Israeli army carried out a series of intensive strikes in multiple locations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Political commentators referred to the strikes as ‘diversion’ tactics, intended to cover a rescue operation that reportedly brought two Israeli hostages home.

For Palestinians, the experience was one that has become familiar: a ‘night full of horror’. More than 100 people were killed, including entire families. Journalists were once again hit: Al Jazeera correspondent Ismail Abu Omar was forced to have his right leg amputated, adding to what has already been dubbed an ‘amputee crisis’ in the enclave.

This was just the precursor. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have set their sights on a full-blown invasion of Rafah. The plans are justified by robotic recitations about the need to eradicate Hamas, a call now synonymous with the constant waves of horrific violence being unleashed against Gaza’s civilian population.

More than four months of the onslaught have already passed, but the bloodbath in Rafah – previously designated a ‘safe zone’ – is likely to be on a scale beyond what we have seen thus far. There are more than one million Palestinians in Rafah, many of whom have already fled homes multiple times to escape Israel’s bombardment. In the process the city has turned into the largest refugee camp on earth. The UN has sounded the alarm about the ‘slaughter’ on the horizon.

Complicity in Genocide

In these circumstances, Western political figures seem to have miraculously discovered their spines. US President Joe Biden has cautioned that ‘A major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of more than 1 million people sheltering there,’ while the UK government declares itself ‘very concerned’, and the Labour Party calls the prospect of an offensive in Rafah ‘unacceptable’.

Despite these words, nobody should be under any illusions. The atrocities committed in Rafah already and those to follow, both there and across the wider Gaza Strip, would not be possible without the unconditional support these leaders and parties have provided to Israel, and are still providing, even as the language changes.

‘Israel has the right to defend itself. We must make sure they have what they need to protect their people,’ Biden announced on the 22 October. By that point, nearly 5,000 Palestinians had already been killed, and evacuation orders for hospitals had been issued, in what amounted to ‘death penalties’ for patients according to the Red Crescent.

The Israeli military was making no effort to obscure its intentions. ‘Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist’, boasted one former IDF general. ‘There will only be destruction. You wanted hell; you will get hell,’ declared another. These goals were acted on swiftly: a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned in November that Gaza had already become ‘hell on earth’.

What should have been a prompt from the UN and plenty of other humanitarian bodies for the West to intervene and try to stop the bloodshed didn’t even shift the dial. Joe Biden bypassed Congress twice in December to approve emergency weapons sales to Israel. Repeated calls from human rights organisations for the British government to suspend arms sales were ignored (Britain has exported £489 million worth of arms to Israel since 2015), and the British government has continued to provide training to Israeli military officers.

Meanwhile, whenever an opportunity to apply global pressure on Israel to end the violence presented itself, it was closed off by Israel’s Western allies with predictable rapidity. When a UN Security Council resolution demanded an immediate ceasefire, the US used its veto power to ensure it did not pass. In the UK, a motion put forward by the Scottish National Party calling for an immediate ceasefire was comprehensively rejected in the House of Commons by a majority of 168. When Israel was facing global isolation as South Africa presented a meticulous case at the International Cou­­rt of Justice (ICJ) accusing Israel of genocide, the German government was quick to dismiss the accusation, and when the interim ruling confirmed a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza, a British foreign office spokesperson expressed ‘considerable concerns’ with the ICJ’s case.

Perhaps worse than the political cover is the conscious decisions these states have taken to make life worse for Palestinians suffering the onslaught. Following allegations from the Israeli government — which remain unsubstantiated – that employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were involved in the 7 October attacks, numerous Western governments including Australia, the UK, the US, Italy, Austria, and Germany suspended their funding, crippling one of the refugees’ few remaining lifelines.

Amnesty International has since denounced the states’ ‘cruel’ decision. The UN agency is the main humanitarian relief provider in Gaza and was already struggling to cater to the needs of Palestinians, especially given only a ‘trickle of aid’ has been entering Gaza as the bombardment goes on. The UN aid chief described Gaza as the worst ever humanitarian crisis back in December: now, Palestinians on the ground are resorting to eating grass and animal feed and drinking polluted water, while newborn babies are dying from hunger and disease as famine looms.

Only after all this – when 175,000 homes or 50 percent of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed, when close to 30,000 have been killed, when 25,000 children have been orphaned, and when more than ten children are losing limbs every day – have these supposed defenders of human rights and democracy begun to shift their tone.

In this context, it is hard to understand cautionary statements about the Rafah offensive as motivated by genuine concern for the safety of Palestinians: Western leaders have already proved themselves to have none. Instead, we should understand them as an attempt by the politicians who offered ‘unqualified support’ to the Israeli military and encouraged collective punishment to absolve themselves of their obvious and overwhelming responsibility in the devastation.

The most obvious evidence of this is that these cautionary statements are unaccompanied by any threats to withdraw the political and moral support on which Israel depends. The Biden administration has already stated it won’t reprimand Israel for failing to protect civilian safety. With domestic demands for action opposing Israel’s crimes growing, the change in tone is not borne out of conviction but political expediency.

The genocide in Gaza is unique in that every devastating chapter has been documented extensively and made available for the world to see. Every crime has played out exactly as boasted about by its perpetrators. Despite all this, the Western world has persisted and continues to persist with the material and political support that has made it all possible.

Tentative rhetoric about safety unbacked by material change now will not cut it. The Palestinian blood on the hands of our politicians will never wash away.

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