Jabalia Refugee Camp Under Fire: Escalating Tragedy in Gaza
Mariana Mayor Lima
Middle East and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
The past week was marked by another series of tragic circumstances in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, October 31st, and Wednesday, November 1st, Israeli airstrikes struck the densely populated Jabalia refugee camp, raising significant concerns about the continuous and escalating humanitarian crisis in the region. Jabalia, the largest refugee camp in Gaza, was already in dire straits before the attacks. Covering just 1.4 square kilometres, it houses over 116,000 registered Palestinian refugees.  The region’s inadequate living conditions have rendered many residents reliant on humanitarian aid, which has become even more challenging to access due to the most recent Gaza blockade, severely limiting the availability of drinking water and access to basic needs. As the conflict escalates, the people of Jabalia, along with countless other Gazans, find themselves trapped in an escalating humanitarian crisis, which was deteriorated by last week’s attacks. 
According to Reuters, the Palestinian health authorities informed that at least 50 Palestinians, potentially including a Hamas commander, were killed by Israeli airstrikes and the number of people injured in this attack exceeded 150 in the refugee camp.  The Israel Defense Forces (“the IDF”) claimed that the attack specifically targeted Ibrahim Biari, whom they accused of orchestrating the “murderous terrorist attack” on October 7.  However, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem vehemently denied the presence of a senior commander at the camp, labelling Israel’s claim as a pretext to harm innocent civilians.  After the explosion, B’tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, issued a statement on Tuesday, condemning Israel's extensive aerial bombardment of Gaza, expressing deep concern about the high number of deaths and stating that “the scale of destruction in Gaza caused by Israel is truly shocking”. 
The IDF’s attack in Jabalia the following day was even more devastating, striking the Fallujah neighbourhood. The attack resulted in the destruction of several buildings and a death toll of at least 80 people, with hundreds more injured - the majority of victims were women and children, according to Dr. Atef Al Kahlout, director of the Indonesian hospital in Gaza.  The IDF stated that Wednesday’s attack targeted a Hamas command and control complex, claiming it had successfully “eliminated” Hamas terrorists. However, the United Nations Human Rights Office expressed profound concerns about the attacks, suggesting that they could potentially amount to war crimes due to the high number of civilian casualties and extensive destruction. 
Deliberately attacking densely populated civilian areas may violate the principle of distinction, enshrined in Article 48 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between military and civilian objectives.  Moreover, the protection of refugees under international law, as provided for in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, has been violated due to the mentioned strikes on the Jabalia refugee camp.  The ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza has taken a heavy toll. According to Al Jazeera, 9,400 Palestinians, including nearly 4,000 children, have been killed in Gaza since October 7.  Urgent calls for a ceasefire from the United Nations and aid organisations have, so far, failed to halt the violence.
Sources and further reading:
 UNRWA, ‘Jabalia Camp’ (July 2023), <Jabalia Camp | UNRWA> accessed 04 November 2023.
 Reuters, ‘Israel strikes dense Gaza camp, says it kills Hamas commander’ (31 October 2023), <https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hamas-says-it-fires-israeli-troops-pressing-gaza-ground-assault-2023-10-31/> accessed 04 November 2023.
 CNN, ‘Catastrophic damage after second Israeli airstrike hits Gaza refugee camp’ (01 November 2023), <https://edition.cnn.com/2023/10/31/middleeast/jabalya-blast-gaza-intl/index.html> accessed 03 November 2023.
 International Committee of the Red Cross, ‘The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols’ (01 January 2014), <The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols> accessed 04 November 2023.
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ‘The Refugee Convention, 1951’ (28 July 1951) <THE REFUGEE CONVENTION, 1951> accessed 04 November 2023.
 Al Jazeera, ‘Extremely challenging’: Israel’s Gaza ground assault faces stumbles’ (04 November 2023), <‘Extremely challenging’: Israel’s Gaza ground assault faces stumbles | Israel-Palestine conflict News | Al Jazeera> accessed 04 November 2023.