Israel may not be winning its stated goal of wiping out Hamas in Gaza. Its military continues to take heavy losses, with 24 soldiers killed between 22 and 26 December.
But Israel appears to be coming closer to the realization of its increasingly apparent strategic goal of purging Palestinians from the territory.
The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said on Tuesday that more than 240 people had been killed during the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll in the territory to 20,915 since 7 October.
Several thousand more are reported missing, many of them under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
Israel transferred the bodies of some 80 unidentified persons that its military had been holding via the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing in southern Gaza on Tuesday.
“They were buried in a mass grave,” the AP news agency reported.
“According to Israeli media, the bodies had reportedly been taken to Israel for inspection, to determine whether any of them were hostages,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, reportedly told lawmakers from his Likud party in recent days that he is pushing for the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians in Gaza.
He said that the challenge was finding “countries that are willing to absorb [them], and we are working on it.”
“Voluntary migration” is euphemistic language for a coerced mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza – a proposal made by senior Israeli politicians such as finance minister Bezalel Smotrich throughout the war.
Removing Palestinians from their homeland so they may be replaced by foreign Jewish settlers has always been the single organizing principle of the state of Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their lands by Zionist forces around the time of the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948.
Israel’s military operations in Gaza – which have rendered the territory unsuitable for sustaining human life by destroying housing, medical facilities and other essential infrastructure – appear to be aimed at forcing an expulsion on that same scale or even greater.
Israel’s evacuation orders are pushing Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians to an increasingly narrow coastal area near the Egyptian border:
On Monday, Israel dropped leaflets ordering the evacuation of an area of Khan Younis, central Gaza, where people already displaced from other parts of the territory were sheltering.
🚨 The ethnic cleansing & forcible transfer of Palestinians in #Gaza did not stop even on Christmas Day.— Al-Mezan الميزان (@AlMezanCenter) December 25, 2023
Today, the Israeli military renewed “evacuation orders” to residents of Al-Bureij refugee camp & nearby areas + issued a new order to residents of "block 122" in Khan Younis https://t.co/8hlACHNgV4 pic.twitter.com/UEvMYwWrkI
Three Palestinian groups – Al-Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights – said that each new displacement process causes the loss of civilian lives, as people are pushed into areas where there is nowhere available to take shelter.
“The forcible transfer and deportation of a significant population across borders, lacking any guarantees of return, would constitute a serious breach of international law, amounting to an atrocity crime,” Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said on Tuesday.
Danny Danon – an Israeli lawmaker belonging to Likud who has publicly pushed for “voluntary migration” – claimed in an interview with state radio that he had received queries from countries willing to take refugees from Gaza.
“I received inquiries from various countries… from countries that are ready to take in refugees and in the past were even in contact with the State of Israel on this issue… these are countries from South America and Africa,” Danon told Kan Bet radio.
“Some of them asked for payment and some of them asked for other things,” Danon added.
Netanyahu posed for a photo with Israeli troops in northern Gaza on Monday. There, the Israeli leader said that “whoever talks about stopping [the war], there is no such thing.”
In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal that same day, Netanyahu outlined his war cabinet’s three requirements for ending the war in Gaza. “We must destroy Hamas, demilitarize Gaza and deradicalize the whole of Palestinian society,” he stated.
Also on Monday, Netanyahu was heckled by the family members of the dozens of Israelis who are still being held in Gaza.
“Now! Now!” the relatives of captives shouted while Netanyahu delivered a speech to parliament vowing to continue the war.
Many family members of the captives have called for their release, no matter the cost. Hamas has put forward offers to exchange all its captives in Gaza for all Palestinians held by Israel in its prisons and detention centers.
Netanyahu insists that only military pressure will secure their release. The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, continue to claim that the captives are being killed in Israeli strikes.
The Israeli military said on Sunday that it recovered the bodies of five captives from a tunnel in the northern Gaza Strip.
“The announcement came a day after the Qassam Brigades said that it lost contact with a group responsible for five Israeli hostages and that the hostages might have been killed in Israeli strikes,” the Anadolu Agency reported.
Dozens massacred in central Gaza
Each day brings new horrors and revelations of Israeli atrocities in Gaza.
The UN human rights office said on Tuesday that the Israeli military carried out 50 airstrikes in central Gaza between 24 and 25 December, hitting three refugee camps.
A combined total of at least 131 people were killed in al-Maghazi and al-Bureij camps.
The roads connecting al-Maghazi, al-Bureij and Nuseirat camps were destroyed, “obstructing relief aid from reaching those in need,” the UN human rights office said.
In southern Gaza, the health ministry said that it feared that Israel was repeating at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis what it did at al-Shifa and other hospitals in the north that were besieged and rendered non-operational by Israel.
On Monday, the health ministry in Gaza said that wounded people were dying from complications resulting from the lack of treatment.
Meanwhile, the ministry added, the mechanism used for transferring casualties outside of Gaza “is ineffective,” resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. The ministry called for a new mechanism to ensure the exit of 5,000 patients who urgently need treatment.
More than 70 people were killed in an Israeli attack on al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, the health ministry said on Monday.
Christmas Eve was one of the deadliest nights of Israel’s 11 weeks of merciless bombing.
The following day, Pope Francis during his Christmas message said that “children dying in wars, including in Gaza, are the ‘little Jesuses of today’ and that Israeli strikes were reaping an ‘appalling harvest’ of innocent civilians,” Reuters reported.
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said on Monday that it had “documented dozens of cases of field executions carried out by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip.”
The Geneva-based group said that it had submitted a primary report on the field executions to independent UN human rights experts and investigators, as well as the International Criminal Court.
Euro-Med Monitor said that six civilians from the al-Khalidi family were executed during a raid on their home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City on 22 December. One day earlier, an older couple were shot and left to bleed to death after being forcibly evacuated from their home on Gaza City’s Yarmouk Street.
Nine civilians, including children, were executed by troops inside the Shadia Abu Ghazaleh school in Jabaliya, northern Gaza, which was being used as a shelter, on 10 December.
Youssef Khalil, an older man, told the Euro-Med monitor that Israeli soldiers opened fire on his family in a classroom in the Shadi Abu Ghazaleh school. Khalil was detained by troops for several days, “during which he was subjected to abuse and torture.”
When he was released, Khalil found his family members’ decomposing bodies where they were killed.
Saeed Jumaa, whose sister was killed in the school, told Al Jazeera that he found her dead in the same room as her husband and their children. Jumaa said that something was written on his nephew’s face in Hebrew and that they were all killed by “firing at them point-blank.”
Euro-Med Monitor also documented the execution of Munir al-Najjar when he was at home with his mother in Jabaliya refugee camp on 10 December.
Abulfadl al-Najjar, Munir’s brother and a UN employee, told Al Jazeera about the raid on his family’s home that day. Abulfadl told a soldier in Hebrew that there were only civilians in the building, but troops started firing at him and his family, wounding al-Najjar’s son and niece.
Abulfadl’s family members were ordered to remove their clothes and held together in a room.
Abulfadl said that he was asked whether he was a UN employee and when he confirmed, he was taken and interrogated four times and accused him of belonging to Hamas and asked him where he was on 7 October.
Abulfadl said that his brother was executed in front of their mother. He said that his brother was shot from underneath his chin, obliterating his head.
“I blame the UN because the UN staff have no protection,” Abulfadl said.
Human skeletons in northern Gaza streets
Members of the Palestinian Civil Defense said on Tuesday that they had recovered corpses from the streets of northern Gaza that had been skeletonized after being exposed for many days:
The bodies of more than 50 people were recovered in Sheikh Radwan in northern Gaza, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday, most of them from under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
Shots rang out while Al Jazeera was reporting in the area as the Israeli military was still operating in the vicinity.
The broadcaster showed men digging a mass grave inside a bombed-out residence while Palestinians living in the area said there was no food or anything to drink. People who were injured the previous day were being evacuated in a gas delivery truck.
The bodies of several people from the same family lay on the ground wrapped in sheets after an Israeli attack on a home that killed around two dozen Palestinians.
Palestinian outlets published a video of a man who said that his family was massacred when troops stormed a relative in Sheikh Radwan. The survivor said he hid under his uncle’s body for three days so the troops wouldn’t know that he was alive: