Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel / Flash 90
Israeli soldiers from the 8717 Battalion of the Givati Brigade operating in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip. Dec. 28, 2023

Israel has agreed to allow a United Nations delegation to enter northern Gaza in order to evaluate the status of remaining infrastructure as well as assess the feasibility for local Gazans to return to the area, as well as the needs of those who decide to do so, according to diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, quoting Israeli and US officials.

The issue of a UN visit was raised during a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s War Cabinet.


According to the report, Blinken emphasized that local residents need to be allowed to return to northern Gaza “as soon as possible.”

Earlier in the day, Blinken spoke with UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag. The two officials “underscored the importance of strengthening the coordination mechanism delivering humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, and facilitating assistance to the northern part of the Gaza Strip to enable the return of displaced people,” according to a statement from State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Israeli officials told Blinken it is not possible at present for anyone to “return to northern Gaza.”

Two reasons were given for this stance:
1. Much of northern Gaza is, frankly, still dangerous due to remaining pockets of Hamas terrorist cells who are still refusing to surrender and are attacking IDF soldiers. Moreover, most of the homes to which residents would like to return are, frankly, piles of rubble. A great deal of reconstruction is going to be needed before anyone can live in these areas.
2. Israel is also demanding the return of its hostages, or at least some form of a hostage release deal with Hamas, before allowing locals to return to northern Gaza. The use of such leverage is probably not as powerful as withholding humanitarian aid — but Israel has chosen not only not to withhold that aid, but instead is actively facilitating its entry into Gaza.

A third reason that went unmentioned is the fact that many Hamas terrorists are still waging war dressed not in uniforms but rather as civilians, and it is nearly impossible to differentiate the killers from the rest of the civilian population. Once Gazans are free to return to the northern part of the enclave, they are also once again within spitting distance of the communities their fellow Gazans attacked and destroyed.

How can any Israeli return home to a village near the border if locals return to northern Gaza without anyone being able to tell who among them is a terrorist and who is not?

In response, Blinken reaffirmed US support for Israel’s right to prevent the October 7th invasion and massacre from being repeated, but also “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” Miller said in a separate statement.

It is not clear what more the Israel Defense Forces can do to “avoid further civilian harm” in Gaza, since nearly every civilian building in the enclave has been used as a mini-base for the Iranian backed Hamas terrorist organization — including mosques, hospitals, clinics, private homes and yes, UNRWA schools as well.

Blinken also “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realization of a Palestinian state,” Miller said.

Interestingly, the Secretary met separately with War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and leader of the Blue and White party, a member of the opposition faction. Gantz is seen as a possible contender for the prime minister’s seat in Israel’s next elections.

“The Secretary underscored the urgent need to protect civilian lives and accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, including through an effective deconfliction mechanism,” Miller said.

Speaking to journalists at a briefing Tuesday evening in Tel Aviv, Blinken emphasized that the United States continues to stand with Israel in “ensuring that October 7th can never happen again,” and said the US is “intensely focused on bringing the remaining hostages home, addressing the humanitarian crisis and strengthening protection for civilians in Gaza, and preventing the conflict from spreading.”

But the Secretary failed to mention the humanitarian crisis facing the tens of thousands of Israeli families who have been forced to leave their homes, who have no idea if or when they will ever be able to return, nor what condition their homes may be in — if they still exist at all.

For residents of the dozens of Israeli communities that were attacked along the Gaza border on October 7th, “returning home” may be only a dream. Entire communities were wiped out during that deadly invasion by Hamas, with many badly damaged or entirely destroyed by the raging hordes who gleefully torched the homes in which peace-loving generations were raised. More than half of the residents in some of those communities were slaughtered — or are being held captive by terrorists in Gaza. Those who remained alive were badly wounded in body and soul.

For the 80,000 residents who were evacuated from communities along Israel’s northern border to escape the unending rocket and missile fire, the future is likewise shrouded in uncertainty — and many homes in the north have also been badly damaged or destroyed in attacks by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.

Some 150,000 Israelis — elderly, men, women, and children — are internal refugees in the same way Gazan civilians were urged to flee active combat zones for their own safety.

Those who didn’t — and yes, some who did — were caught in the crossfire and died. Their deaths were not intentional, at least from Israel’s side, but having been deliberately placed in the line of fire and used as human shields by their own government, in many cases their fates were sealed.

The steady stream of video and photographic evidence proving the cynical use of civilian sites by Hamas in its war against Israel — an international war crime — somehow seems not to have made even a tiny dent in US and international determination to paint Israel as the aggressor in its defensive war for survival.

Again the question arises: How can any Israeli refugee return home to a village near the border without the ability to guarantee Gaza will no longer be a threat to their existence?

The “humanitarian crisis” endlessly lamented by the US or the United Nations seems focused solely on Gazan civilians, with Israel painted the villain for trying to protect them from their terrorist government, Hamas, and Israeli refugees simply lost in the shuffle.

At the end of the day, however, none of this really matters: Israel is fighting another war of “ein brera” (no choice), and will have to do what it must to protect its Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other citizens — whether that choice wins the global public relations popularity contest, or not.


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.