27 May 2024

‘Really heartbreaking, really sickening’: UNRWA on Israeli attack on Rafah refugee camp

We spoke to Sam Rose, who’s the director of planning at the UN’s agency for Palestinians, UNRWA.

He heard the strike from around two miles away in Al-Mawasi, where he’s helping coordinate the humanitarian effort.

We asked him for his reaction to what happened.

Sam Rose: This instance is is particularly sickening given the images, but also given the circumstances and the fact that so many women and children were killed, suffering horrific burns, but also being killed through shrapnel wounds. It feels like we plumb new depths almost every day with what we see. But really, really heartbreaking, really sickening.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: What do you make of the way the information comes out, or what can we read from that? First Israel explained the attack and explained that they were targeting particular members of Hamas, and it’s taken a few hours, but now they’ve said this was a tragic error.

Sam Rose: We’ve seen attack after attack: 36,000 people killed, the majority women and children, given the breakdown of of the population. So tragically this is one incident amongst many, around 100 people killed in other parts of the Gaza Strip overnight, we understand, at least according to the figures of the Ministry of Health. What appears to have happened on this, and I can’t comment on Israeli military strategy or communications, is the almost universal outcry and horror of this coming on top of everything else and the circumstances in which it happened.

A camp of civilians, a camp of largely women and children who’ve been forced to flee to these areas anyway, been assured that these areas were part of a safe humanitarian zone and coming so close to the ruling from the International Court of Justice, the highest judicial body in the UN, calling for a halt to the conflict. This is what we’ve seen.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Israel also says it did kill Hamas leaders in this attack. Does that mean it is routine that Hamas is mixing in the civilian population, even in areas that are supposed to be for internally displaced people?

‘Hard to justify’

Sam Rose: These are very, very crowded areas of Gaza, very built-up areas. It’s impossible to say with any certainty, but there are rules of war. There are rules of war on the Hamas side. But the rules of war on the Israeli side, on both sides, in terms of protecting the civilian nature of certain areas. But there are also rules regarding proportionality and avoiding excessive civilian casualties, and when you have an incident like this, it’s hard to see what immediate military objective could justify such an attack.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: This comes after recent statements by both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. What is the mood where you are now about what is going on in the light of all of that?

Sam Rose: The mood is one of numbness, it’s one of hopelessness, it’s one of exhaustion and despair. How long is this going to go on, and this real dread that there will just be more of this unless it comes to an end? People here are absolutely exhausted. They’ve got violence, brutal violence impacting every aspect of their life and they’re being, so really, really desperate times right now for the people of Gaza.