On Saturday, Israel attacked the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza in an effort to recover four Israeli hostages, killing at least 275 Palestinians. Celebrations of the attack by US officials show a grotesquely blatant disregard for Palestinian life.

Palestinians conduct a search and rescue operation among the rubble after Israeli warplanes targeted the house of the el-Safi family in the Nuseirat refugee camp area in Gaza on June 9, 2024. (Ashraf Amra / Anadolu via Getty Images)

On Saturday, Israeli forces killed at least 275 Palestinians in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, most of them children and women, and wounding over seven hundred others. Footage shared by Palestinian journalists in Gaza shows hundreds of dead and wounded bodies lying strewn in the streets, with many still under the rubble or scattered in bombarded market alleys. “I collected my son in pieces,” said one bereaved mother.

Laboring under relentless bombardment, rescuers struggled to pull the dead and wounded to safety. “Dogs were eating people’s remains,” one eyewitness related. “We pulled out six martyrs, all torn-up children and women, we risked our lives to get them to the hospital.” Doctors Without Borders describes the scene at the overwhelmed hospital as a “nightmare” and “chaos.” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, called the assault on Nuseirat an “appalling massacre of civilians” and said “the bloodbath must end immediately.”

It was the largest massacre in Gaza since last October. “Palestinians were slaughtered like animals,” said Palestinian journalist Hossam Shabat. Entire families were massacred; the remains of ten children, all in pieces, were discovered inside a single room in Abo Karem Bhour’s house in the western part of Nuseirat. Many were executed while attempting to flee to safety.

In a chilling testimony, Rasha Matar recounts how Israeli special units killed her twelve-year-old son, Yamen, right in front of her: “We did nothing wrong; they executed my son before my eyes.” Her surviving son, Ahmad, claimed that his brother was killed by US soldiers: “Biden’s army killed my brother. These were American special forces.”

Other children were also executed, including three young sisters: Rital, Mayar, and Mariam Abu Yousef. Hanan Aqel, a ten-year old girl, had her face erased by a bomb. One heartbreaking video features a child shielding his slain baby brother from the sun with his bare hands moments before he was buried.

The camp itself lies in ruins after Israeli forces’ carpet-bombing. The Nuseirat camp, which was believed to be a “safe zone” for displaced Palestinians in Gaza, has now endured relentless air strikes, ground bombardments, and naval assaults.

Claims of US Involvement

The Nuseirat camp massacre was carried out alongside an Israeli operation that rescued four Israeli hostages, according to Israeli reports. Some reports indicate that US forces may have been involved as well. The Quds News Network claimed that US soldiers were involved in the Israeli assault, sharing footage supposedly showing that US forces used the US-built humanitarian pier in Gaza to sneak American soldiers into the camp. An Israeli source claimed that US soldiers were wounded in the assault.

According to media reports, Israeli forces used two civilian cars carrying humanitarian aid. Survivors related that Special Forces assaulted civilians while disguised as aid workers and displaced persons. “They were in a truck carrying clothes and cooking pans,” a wounded eyewitness described the Israeli forces. “The United States actively coordinated, planned, and supported Israel in deceiving starving Palestinians and carrying out the slaughter of hundreds,” wrote one Palestinian journalist.

Following the assault on Nuseirat, the UN World Food Program halted its aid operations in Gaza through the US-built pier, saying that two of its warehouses were bombed during the attack. Videos of a helicopter leaving the US-built pier on Saturday have also raised questions over the US direct military involvement in Gaza under the guise of humanitarian aid.

The massacre suggests that the Biden administration’s “aid pier” may be something rather different. The $320-million pier, which Palestinians call the “occupation port,” may have been quietly morphing into a military base, as footage from May showed the US army’s deployed C-RAM system in action near the floating pier.

Craig Mokhiber, the former director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) who resigned over the Gaza genocide, asked on Twitter/X if the “humanitarian” pier was used as a launching point for the Nuseirat massacre, which could not have happened without US collaboration. He went on to say, “Israel, with US support, used perfidy to enter a refugee camp & carry out a large, bloody massacre of civilians, recovering 4 prisoners in the process. If you are celebrating this atrocity, you are part of the problem.” US officials have denied that the pier was used in the assault.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Council on American–Islamic Relations condemned the “horrific massacre at Nuseirat Camp refugee camp,” and demanded answers over “U.S. involvement in this massacre and whether any Americans were in the units that carried it out.” The statement said: “The [Biden] administration also must stop funding these daily incidents of mass slaughter and instead use American leverage to stop the genocide, free all hostages and political prisoners, and end the illegal occupation of Palestine that lies at the root of the violence.”

The Erasure of Palestinian Life

Reveling in the return of Israeli hostages, mainstream US media has largely ignored the massacre. A Washington Post headline describes it as “a rare day of joy amid bloodshed.” While smiling photos of the returning hostages and celebratory headlines have dominated the news, Palestinian victims continue to figure merely as faceless, nameless numbers. Meanwhile, some Israelis have taken to Telegram to mock the burned bodies of Palestinians.

The Israeli army hailed the assault on Nuseirat as its greatest victory in the war, even despite reports that Israel killed three hostages in the operation. As Israeli and US officials celebrated the assault on Nuseirat, demonstrations erupted worldwide on Saturday, including in the United States, where thousands of protesters marched on the White House to demand an immediate and permanent cease-fire.

US officials are hailing the massacre in Nuseirat as a victory. President Joe Biden welcomed the return of Israeli hostages, vowing not to stop working until all the hostages come home. “We commend the work of the Israeli security services that are conducting this daring operation,” the White House said in a statement. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan congratulated Israeli security forces on the “successful” operation and referred to US support for efforts to release hostages through “ongoing negotiations or other means” (emphasis added).

The Biden team had nothing to say, on the other hand, about the hundreds of Palestinians who were killed in the assault, with admitted US involvement in the form of intelligence assistance. Instead, Biden’s celebratory message gives carte blanche to Israeli leaders to carry out civilian massacres in the name of rescuing hostages.

“Israel has used hostages to legitimise killing, injuring, maiming, starving and traumatising Palestinians in Gaza,” said the UN special rapporteur on Palestine. Meanwhile, Israel continues to hold over ten thousand Palestinians captive, including over nine thousand detained since last October, who are languishing in Israeli torture chambers and detention camps, with dozens having died in custody in prisons where abuse has been reported. The captives even include children who have been abducted from their homes in Gaza, according to a recent report in Zeteo.

Yet the Biden administration’s fixation on Israeli hostages conveys the message that Palestinian lives hardly matter. As another UN official put it: “Countries that celebrate the release of four Israeli hostages without saying a word about the hundreds of Palestinians killed and thousands held in arbitrary detention by Israel, have lost moral credibility for generations and don’t deserve to be on any UN human rights body.”

The Nuseirat camp massacre comes one day after the United Nations added Israel to its blacklist of countries that harm children in conflict zones, and less than a week after Israel’s horrific assault on a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school in the Nuseirat refugee camp, which killed dozens of Palestinians, most of them children. Israel continues to bomb Nuseirat and other camps across Gaza and Rafah; Israeli forces carried out eight massacres total over the weekend, including in Deir al-Balah and al-Bureij. On Sunday, Israeli forces reportedly killed six relatives of the late Palestinian writer Refaat Alareer, who was assassinated by Israel last December — including an eight-months-pregnant mother and two children. On Monday, Israel carried out a series of fresh attacks throughout Gaza, killing at least forty Palestinians.

The massacres are just the latest reminders that Western leaders, led by the Biden administration, continue to view Palestinians as less than human. To quote the late Anthony Bourdain, who died six years ago last week: “The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinians, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity.”

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