The Rafah Tent Massacre

The “precision” airstrike set the tent camp on fire and burned dozens of people to death.

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Dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed and hundreds more injured on Sunday in a blaze caused by an Israeli airstrike on a Rafah tent camp full of displaced people. The massacre has been widely condemned:

Several countries and global organisations have condemned the Israeli air attack on tents housing displaced people in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah that killed at least 40 Palestinians, including many children.

The attack on a camp full of displaced civilians was undeniably a war crime. In response to the report of the attack, Jeremy Konyndyk of Refugees International said, “Bombing a tent camp full of displaced people is a clear-cut, full-on war crime. Even if Hamas troops were present, that does not absolve the IDF of the obligation to protect civilians. It does not turn a tent camp into a free fire zone.” The Israeli government drove these people into these crowded and dangerous conditions, and then it bombed them. The “precision” airstrike set the tent camp on fire and burned dozens of people to death. Israeli military operations were responsible for putting those people in that position, and they were responsible for causing their deaths.

This is one of the many atrocities that the Israeli military has committed in this war, and it happened just days after the International Court of Justice ordered a halt to Israel’s operations in Rafah. The Biden administration has been aiding and abetting of crimes like this one for almost eight months with a steady stream of arms transfers, and it shows no signs of stopping. Today there was another airstrike on a tent camp in the same area that was supposed to be a humanitarian refuge, and this one killed 21 people, including twelve women. These attacks prove once again that there is no safe place anywhere in Gaza. There must be an immediate and lasting ceasefire to prevent more slaughters of civilians.

According to Axios, the Biden administration is “assessing” whether the first tent massacre means that Israel has crossed Biden’s so-called red line, but we already know what their answer will be. The red line never really existed, and it wasn’t going to be enforced even if it had. Because the administration said it was opposed to a “major” operation in Rafah, U.S. officials have been spinning the attack on Rafah as a “limited” one to make it seem as if Netanyahu listened to them. Last week, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Israel had made “refinements” to its plans for Rafah. We are seeing the results of those “refinements” now.

Things were already horrific enough in these tent camps before the airstrikes. The mass displacement of hundreds of thousands from Rafah has created a nightmare situation. The administration has been pretending for months that there was a way to attack Rafah that wouldn’t cause an even greater humanitarian disaster. Now they are pretending that the current operation isn’t causing that disaster. The famine that was already spreading in Gaza is going to get significantly worse because they failed to prevent the attack on Rafah. Hunger and disease threaten to claim tens of thousands of lives in the coming months if nothing is done to help the people displaced by the war.

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Daniel Larison is a contributing editor for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.