(Nahal Oz) Israel is working to create, within the Gaza Strip, a buffer zone intended to strengthen the security of the south of the country, encroaching on already small Palestinian territory and raising fears of serious violations of the rights of its inhabitants.
On October 7, fighters from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas carried out the most violent attack in its history, after breaking down the fences supposed to prevent it.
In recent weeks, the Israeli army has therefore undertaken to make a strip of one kilometer wide, from one end of Gaza to the other, uninhabitable, an expert told AFP. In its narrowest part, the territory does not exceed 6 kilometers wide.
More than 30% of the buildings on this spit of land have been destroyed, says Adi Ben Nun, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, based on satellite images. “It’s an open question, it’s not secret.”
In January, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi was forced to explain “an operation in the buffer zone between Israeli communities and Gaza”. No less than 21 reservists were killed there, the worst daily toll for Israel since the start of the war.
The army did not respond to AFP’s questions about this buffer zone.
But experts now stress that the forced displacement of Gazans could constitute a violation of the rights of war.
“Do not encroach” on Gaza
“We see growing evidence that Israel is making large areas of Gaza uninhabitable (…). This could amount to war crimes,” Nadia Hardman, refugee rights specialist for the organization Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
“If the Israeli government wants a buffer zone, it has every right to create one in Israel” but “not to appropriate territory in Gaza,” adds Ken Roth, professor at Princeton University in the United States. -United.
Washington, Israel’s unwavering ally, itself warned this bluntly. “We remain clear about not encroaching” on Gaza territory, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared in January.
Israel has, however, been thinking about this buffer zone since at least 2005, when the army unilaterally evacuated the approximately 8,000 Israeli settlers who had established themselves there.
This withdrawal put an end to the Israeli presence in the territory, which dated from the 1967 war.
Israel, considered internationally as an illegal occupier, ultimately abandoned the project, but has since retained control of the borders and imposed a blockade on Gaza.
Egypt, for its part, maintains a buffer zone with the south of the territory, but on its own soil.
Security at the non-internationally recognized border between Gaza and Israel is a priority for Israelis displaced from the towns and villages closest to Gaza, heavily hit on October 7.
Not for children
“The buffer zone is important so that those who want to return home feel safe,” argues Israela Oron, a former general.
But the time has not come. None of the 400 residents of Nahal Oz, evacuated after October 7, have returned. “It’s not a place where you can come back with your children. Not yet, unfortunately,” admits Eran Braverman, a 63-year-old farmer, who is participating in the kibbutz restoration work to AFP.
More than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the attack launched on October 7 by Hamas commandos from the Gaza Strip, the most violent in Israel’s history, according to an AFP count. based on official Israeli data.
Of the approximately 250 people taken to Gaza on October 7, according to Israel, 132 hostages are still being held there, 27 of whom were declared dead by the army.
In response, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “annihilate” Hamas, which took power in Gaza in 2007, and launched a military offensive which left more than 27,000 dead, the vast majority civilians, according to the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian movement.
In post-war scenarios, the idea of a buffer zone “came back on the table,” notes Cecilie Hellestveitde of the Norwegian Academy of International Law.
At the end of January, the highest court of the UN, seized by South Africa, called on Israel to prevent any possible act of “genocide” in Gaza.
According to the expert, Israeli officials could face accusations of the risk of “ethnic cleansing, the (illegal) transfer of populations or the lack of reconstruction, which will result in Palestinians being forced to leave the area completely.” .