How A Rafah Invasion Could Impact Palestinian Refugees | Crooked Media
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May 06, 2024
What A Day
How A Rafah Invasion Could Impact Palestinian Refugees

In This Episode

  • Hamas on Monday announced it had agreed to a proposal for a ceasefire deal, renewing hopes a truce with Israel could be reached. Israeli officials said while the proposal didn’t meet all of its demands, it would send a delegation to Cairo to continue talks in hopes of reaching a deal. The movement on a possible ceasefire came as Israeli officials also ordered more than 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate parts of eastern Rafah. In this city, more than a million people are sheltering. Jeremy Konyndyk, president of the humanitarian group Refugees International, explains how an Israeli invasion of Rafah could further destabilize Gaza.
  • And in headlines: The New York judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial fined the former president another $1,000 for violating a gag order, Indiana holds its primary election today, and Conde Nast reached a tentative labor agreement with its unionized workers.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Tuesday, May 7th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson and this is What a Day where we respect the local journalists in Nantucket who spent an entire day following around the first Cybertruck on the island and bullying it viciously when it got stuck in the sand. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It is a tiny island full of haters, and I have never felt the need to move as badly as I do right now. 


Tre’vell Anderson: An island of people doing the Lord’s work. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We should join them. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, Columbia University cancels its main commencement ceremony after weeks of protests. Plus, Indiana primaries are today, and we take a look at key races. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, there are renewed hopes for a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. On Monday, Hamas announced that it had accepted a cease fire proposal advanced by Qatari and Egyptian mediators. It reportedly includes a phased release of some Israeli hostages who are being held by Hamas in Gaza, and a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the region, ending with, quote, “sustainable calm” or “permanent cessation of military and hostile operations.” The announcement was a surprise after a delegation for Hamas left the negotiating table in Cairo on Sunday, amid an impasse over how long a potential truce would last. Israeli officials said later on Monday that while the proposal Hamas agreed to didn’t meet all of their demands, it would send a group to continue talks in hopes of reaching a deal. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Okay, so that sounds like good news. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s definitely promising. But it also didn’t stop Israel from ramping up attacks on Rafah in southern Gaza. They started on Sunday night and continued Monday after Hamas’s militant arm launched a rocket attack on a major aid crossing between southern Gaza and Israel that killed four soldiers. At least a dozen Palestinians died in Israeli counter strikes on Sunday night. Israel on Monday also ordered more than 100,000 people to leave eastern Rafah and move north of the city, but it’s not clear yet whether that means a larger ground invasion is imminent. To get a sense of what an invasion of Rafah would mean for the people sheltering there and for Gaza as a whole. I spoke earlier with Jeremy Konyndyk. He is the president of Refugees International, a humanitarian organization that advocates for refugees and policies that help them. He also served in senior roles at the U.S. agency for International Development, or USAID, first as the director of USAID’s Office of War and Disaster Assistance under former President Barack Obama, and then as the agency’s lead official for Covid 19 under President Joe Biden. Here is our conversation: Over a million people are currently sheltering in Rafah, roughly half the population of Gaza. And it’s the only major city in the region that hasn’t seen a full Israeli ground invasion yet. How vital is Rafah right now as a place for civilians and refugees who are trying to survive this war? 


Jeremy Konyndyk: So Rafah is really vital, both because it is the last bastion of some form of safety and protection for about half of Gaza’s population, as you said, but also because it is the one remaining hub for the aid operation in Gaza. Aid groups do not have any consistent access through the rest of Gaza. They’re very dependent on permission from the IDF. There are a lot of movement restrictions. They don’t have consistent access to border crossings outside of the south. And so most of the aid flow is also through Rafah, through those southern border crossings. That’s where most of the humanitarian residences are, where most of the warehouses are, where most of the trucking capacity is. So if that goes off line, it will hugely handicap, even collapse the humanitarian effort at a time when, of course, as the executive director of the World Food Program said over the weekend, famine is already present in the north and is spreading south. 


Priyanka Aribindi: On Monday, Israel ordered about 100,000 people who were sheltering in eastern Rafah to evacuate to an area that is north of the city, an area that Israel says is a humanitarian zone. What new, immediate challenges will those evacuees face? 


Jeremy Konyndyk: Those evacuees face a lot of uncertainty and not much guarantee of safety. Um. You know, we’ve seen over and over that these evacuation orders do not actually confer safety. Um. There was a very famous, widely reported incident a few months ago where a young girl named named Hind was with her family evacuating in a part of northern Gaza after an evacuation order from the IDF had told them to move out of their neighborhood. While they were in their car driving out of their neighborhood, their car was targeted by Israeli forces. It was blown up. She had a cell phone. She called the emergency line for the Palestinian Red Crescent. That audio has been widely shared. The Palestinian Red Crescent conferred with the IDF, sent a team out with IDF approval to go and rescue her. They too were targeted and killed by the IDF, and it wasn’t until days later that other paramedics were finally able to find them. So I think these kind of orders are rightly viewed with a lot of skepticism by Palestinians in Gaza. But then, of course, the so-called safe zone in Mawasi that the IDF is telling people to move towards that too has been struck numerous times, and CNN and NBC have done extensive exposes showing how that zone has not actually been immune to strikes. So there’s really nowhere safe for people to go. And it’s very confusing and very uncertain for Palestinians right now to know what they can do to find safety. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the IDF will invade Rafah. In fact, we’ve already seen attacks Sunday and Monday. So if more people are forced to evacuate the city ahead of a wider invasion, what will the fallout be for people you know more widely in Gaza? 


Jeremy Konyndyk: It will really be catastrophic. And I think even the Biden administration, while they haven’t said as definitively as I wish they would that there should be no Rafah invasion, you know, what they have said is there should be no Rafah invasion without a credible plan to protect the civilian population. So even that, you know, in a backhanded way, acknowledges how damaging a full offensive would be. What I wish they would acknowledge, and what I think, frankly, they need to acknowledge, is there is no safe way to evacuate a million people from Rafah. That is not something that, as a logistical matter, can be done safely. And given the track record of the IDF with past evacuation orders and with their their reckless targeting that even the president has called indiscriminate. There’s really no way to see any evacuation plan coming from the IDF at this point as a credible plan. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And I mean, without this plan, aid organizations are already struggling to operate in Gaza. How would an invasion at this point exacerbate the challenges that these groups are already facing on the ground? 


Jeremy Konyndyk: Well the expectation from a lot of the humanitarian groups is it would basically shut down most of their operations. You know, the crossing at Rafah and the crossing nearby in the south at Kerem Shalom, those have been the principal entry points for humanitarian aid into Gaza since the start of the war. None of the other crossings have the same volume, have the same logistical pipelines. So if those two are taken offline, it really risks the full collapse of the aid effort. Now, I think the Biden administration is pinning a lot of hopes on this new port that they are building in central Gaza that may or may not prove useful, but it is certainly not a replacement for losing the two principal crossings where most of the aid currently flows. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So you served in senior positions at USAID under Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. What do you think the conversations from an aid perspective at least look like within the Biden administration at this moment? How would they be preparing for the fallout of a Rafah invasion? 


Jeremy Konyndyk: [sigh] I think there is a huge amount of frustration in the working levels of the government right now about US policy. You can see that in what’s been reported about what USAID and the State Department sent up the chain, and they are also sending up the chain their view that there is no way to soften the blow of a Rafah invasion. There is no way to offset the humanitarian catastrophe that that would entail. So you know how do you plan for a catastrophe that you can see coming and that you know you can’t offset? You can’t do it. I think an interesting analog here and something that Brett McGurk, who’s now in a senior level in the White House worked on in the Obama administration, was the invasion of the town of Mosul in Iraq. And there there was extensive care taken and close coordination between the aid providers and the military to provide safe exit zones for people to make sure that there was extensive aid access in all of the areas that were, you know, liberated from ISIL control. So there was a robust aid presence. There was a real plan that was being generated in consultation and coordination with humanitarian groups in order to do as much as possible to mitigate the humanitarian impact. Nothing close to that is happening here. The last thing I would say is, you know, the famine has disappeared a bit from the headlines in the last couple of weeks. Critical to understand about famine is to fight a famine you need access and you need safety for aid workers. You cannot fight famine off the back of a truck. So I have watched famines and severe food crises during my time in the U.S. government. And the mission critical element there is presence. You need aid workers who can be present on the ground, who can be operating nutrition centers, who can be operating health centers, who can be rebuilding and restoring water services. All of that requires safe access and presence, and it’s very hard to see any of that being possible right now without a cease fire. So if a cease fire does not come together, and particularly if the Rafah invasion goes forward, it doesn’t just devastate the million people who are sheltering in Rafah. It really devastates the entire population of Gaza, because it would virtually guarantee that the famine will spread throughout the entire territory. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Jeremy Konyndyk, President of Refugees International. That is the latest for now. We’ll get to some headlines in just a moment. But if you like our show, please make sure to subscribe and share it with your friends. We’ll be back right after some ads. [music break]




Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s get to some headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Week three of Trump’s hush money trial started off how you’d expect with Justice Juan Merchan issuing Trump yet another thousand dollar fine for violating his gag order on Monday. As with all the others, this order bars Trump from attacking those involved in the trial. Merchan warned Trump that any future violations could potentially result in jail time. And yes, this is the 10th time that Trump has violated his gag order. I wonder if he hits a certain number of fines he gets one free like a Pizza Hut deal. Last week, the former president was fined $9,000 for social media posts. Outside of the courtroom Monday, Trump remarked that honoring his constitutional right to free speech was worth a trip to jail. 


[clip of Donald Trump] And frankly, you know what? Our Constitution is much more important than jail. It’s not even close. I’ll do that sacrifice any day. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh my God. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Indiana’s primary election is today. President Biden is running uncontested in the Democratic presidential primary. Former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will appear on the GOP ticket. Among the important races down the ballot is the race to replace the state’s GOP governor, Eric Holcomb. Holcomb is at the end of his term limit, and several conservatives have thrown their hat into the ring. In another race, Republican Senator Mike Braun is expected to win his party’s nomination after receiving Trump’s endorsement. Meanwhile, Republicans are hoping to fill the state’s four open seats in the House of Representatives and half of the seats in the state legislature are up for grabs. So for all of our Hoosiers out there, please do not forget to vote. Do not forget to text your friends, family, whoever who live in Indiana to get out there and vote. It’s important. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Columbia University has canceled its main commencement ceremony. The university announced Monday that it will not hold the university wide graduation, but will still hold ceremonies for the individual colleges. The university spokesperson said, quote, “holding a large commencement ceremony on our campus presented security concerns that unfortunately proved insurmountable.” This comes after the New York Police Department deployed more than 100 officers onto campus last week for a second time to arrest students occupying a building on campus and break down a pro-Palestinian encampment. The raid ended the weeks long protests against the war in Gaza. Graduation was scheduled for May 15th. Columbia says it is looking at alternative events to celebrate its graduates, many of whom did not have high school graduations because of Covid 19. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Conway Nast, the parent company of major culture publications like Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, reached a tentative labor agreement with its unionized workers on Monday. After over a year of negotiations, staffers have won higher wages, increased parental leave and better health care. The deal came just hours before this year’s Met Gala. Staffers had planned to picket the event if their demands were not met before celebrities were set to walk the carpet, a move that would have been really not a good look for the most prestigious fashion event of the year. We love it when corporations are forced to do the right thing, when there is the potential for bad optics. This is a great strategy. Everybody, please learn from this. But let’s get into the fashion of the night. The theme was The Garden of Time. I have thoughts on this year’s Met Gala, nothing was really like my favorite favorite ever. But a couple stood out to me. I did like Tyla in the sand dress. That was cool. Kim Kardashian unfortunately brought it. She was in Margiela. She looked amazing. But Tre’vell, I know you have some favorites too. What are we liking? 


Tre’vell Anderson: So I should say the carpet is still going as we go to record. 


Priyanka Aribindi: True. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Some new fashion might pop up that all the girls are talking about. My faves right now though are Janelle Monet looked wonderful. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Zenday looked wonderful. I want to shout out Keke Palmer. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Tre’vell Anderson: She was giving me Vanessa Bell Calloway in Coming to America. For those who know that reference, shout out to you. And then last but not least, Cardi B giving us Black Hole Couture on the Met Gala red carpet. I kind of loved it. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And I have to go through and listen to her explanation of like how this is Garden of Time, but like, I’m here for it, I’m interested. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It doesn’t matter. 


Priyanka Aribindi: She got us talking. [laughter] It doesn’t, does it matter. Probably not. And those are the headlines. [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Fine Trump another thousand dollars for running his mouth and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading and not just articles bullying cyber trucks like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And there’s still time to invite us to the Met Gala. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m like not that far away. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I mean, you could just crash right now. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’d hop in an Uber. [laughter] Big Monday night plans involve finishing up work and crashing the Met Gala. Isn’t that like a whole plot of, like, an Oceans movie? 


Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] Yes it is. 


Priyanka Aribindi: They crash it and they steal a diamond necklace. 


Tre’vell Anderson: They steal. Yeah. Mm hmm.


Priyanka Aribindi: Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, it’s all of them. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It’s so good. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.