Our eyes are naturally drawn to bombings and air strikes and statistics on the dead. This principle is exemplified by the furor over the bombing of al-Ahli Hospital, the responsibility for which it is difficult to fix amid the fog of war. It should be remembered, however, that Israel has threatened many other hospitals, demanding that they be evacuated, however unrealistic that demand might be. But the threat of total war on Gaza civilians comes from a different policy, which is endangering their lives on a much grander scale if in less garish ways.
The government Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began its counter-attack on the Palestinians of Gaza with an announcement that water, electricity, and the provision of goods would be cut off. Gaza’s water plant and public water networks were deactivated by the Israelis. The “goods” being interdicted include food imports. Netanyahu also ordered Palestinians living in the north of Gaza to leave for the south, displacing half of the 2.2 million inhabitants of the Strip. Such population transfers are illegal in international law. Israel has also announced that it is striking hospitals where 2,000 of the Strip’s 3,500 hospital beds are located. No evidence has been presented that the Gaza hospitals are being used for military purposes.
The 1964 Guy Hamilton film, “ Goldfinger,” with a screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn, was based on the 1958 Ian Fleming novel about gold smuggling. At one point Auric Goldfinger captures Bond and ties him to a golden table with his legs apart, and then starts a laser beam toward 007.
Netanyahu has a laser beam of water denial aimed at the civilian population of Gaza.
His policies are a death sentence on the women, children and other noncombatants of the Gaza Strip. He has created the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world. This is a war crime of immense proportions, but is being too little attended to by observers of the conflict.
I just got back from a trip to Sarajevo in Bosnia, which was besieged by fascist Bosnian Serb forces for 4 years in the 1990s, who also tried to cut off water to the inhabitants of the city. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was found guilty of war crimes for the siege, among other atrocities. The Clinton administration and European allies, outraged, forcefully intervened to stop the attempted massacre. Yet nowadays the United States is cheering on the thirsting to death of women and children in Gaza and was the only member of the 15-nation UN Security Council to veto Brazil’s resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. There is something horribly wrong with the Biden administration in this regard, as it hugs the contemporary extremist Israeli government instead of helping send its members to the Hague for trial.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) notes, “Starvation as a method of warfare is explicitly prohibited regardless of the nature of the conflict, and the concept of objects essential for the survival of the civilian population includes drinking-water installations and supplies and irrigation works. Immunity for indispensable objects is waived only when these are used solely for the armed forces or in direct support of military action. Even then, the adversaries must refrain from any action which could reduce the population to starvation or deprive it of essential water.”
The pipelines Israel cut off bring in potable water. UNRWA explains, “Three water desalination plants, previously producing 21 million liters of drinking water per day, have halted operations.”
Netanyahu’s primary purpose may be to destroy the Hamas terrorist organization in revenge for its monstrous atrocities of October 7 and after, which have resulted in some 1400 Israeli deaths and 4,229 wounded, while others continue to be held as hostages (a war crime by Hamas among many war crimes). That Netanyahu should target Hamas for destruction is understandable and perfectly legal. He is making it clear, however, that he also wants to inflict maximum damage on ordinary Palestinians who are not connected to that party-militia (as most are not). Half the population is under 18 and few ever voted for Hamas.
Because of Israel’s 16-year-long blockade, the Palestinians of Gaza depend heavily on aid for their survival. That aid has been cut off. The Netanyahu government is now saying it will allow a few Egyptian aid trucks in, but this is a mere band aid on a gargantuan social problem.
OCHA says that as of Wednesday, “The complete siege of Gaza continues. The Rafah Crossing has remained closed, preventing the entry of desperately needed humanitarian aid, including food, water and medicines awaiting on the Egyptian side. The Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel also remain closed.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported Wednesday that “The cumulative fatality toll in the Gaza Strip is 3,478 as of 17:00 (18 October), including at least 853 children (as of 17 October), according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. Hundreds of additional fatalities are believed to be trapped under the rubble. The number of IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] in Gaza is estimated at about one million.” Over 500,000 of these are staying in UNRWA schools in central and southern Gaza alone, in increasingly dire conditions.”
UNRWA says that it cannot provide those internal refugees with needed food, water, hygiene or psychological support.
About 100 IDPs taking shelter at UNRWA facilities in Gaza have been killed by Israeli bombing.
The flow of drinking water is essential because Gaza’s own aquifer has been polluted with sewage and industrial waste and has seen an influx of sea water, i.e. of salt water, partially because of rising seas caused by climate change. Drinking sea water causes frequent urination and leads to dehydration and death in a matter of days. Only 4% of water inside Gaza is drinkable. Without electricity or fuel, people cannot boil the water to kill bacteria. Even that wouldn’t solve the salt water problem.
UNRWA wrote earlier this week, “People across Gaza have severely limited access to clean drinking water. As a last resort, people are consuming brackish water from agricultural wells, triggering serious concerns over the spread of waterborne diseases. For the fifth consecutive day, Gaza has had no electricity, pushing vital services, including health, water and sanitation to the brink of collapse, and worsening food insecurity.”
NOAA says, “Human kidneys can only make urine that is less salty than salt water. Therefore, to get rid of all the excess salt taken in by drinking seawater, you have to urinate more water than you drank. Eventually, you die of dehydration even as you become thirstier.”
That fate is befalling the Palestinians of Gaza as we speak.
UNRWA updated its report on the situation on Wednesday, writing, “The water crisis continues due to the inability to bring in much needed fuel, which is needed to operate water pumps and desalination plants. It is further compounded by the very limited supply of water on the market. Many UNRWA shelters have no water supplies. Health-related risks due to the lack of water and poor sanitation are growing, including water-borne and other diseases.”
OCHA noted on Wednesday, “The average water consumption for all needs (drinking, cooking and hygiene) is currently estimated at three litres per day per person in Gaza. People consume more and more water from unsafe sources, risking death and placing the population at risk of infectious disease outbreak.”
Although the Israeli government said it had turned back on the water for south Gaza, this announcement appears to have been mere propaganda. The Gaza Ministry of Public Health says no water is being received. Palestinians pointed out on social media that without electricity the water cannot be pumped. Electricity remains off. Moreover, many of the water pipelines were broken by Israeli aerial bombardment.
Israel admits it continues to block water to north Gaza.
Infants are at special risk of dying from inadequate water or from impure or salt water. Infant mortality has almost certainly already spiked in Gaza, and unless the heartless Israeli policies are reversed, we will see much bigger piles of dead babies than the bombings have ever produced.
As the laser advanced toward Bond, Goldfinger turned to leave. Maibaum and Dehn have Bond ask, perhaps as a delaying tactic, “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger laughs. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Netanyahu is saying the same thing to pregnant mothers, toddlers, and other civilian collateral damage of his total war on Gaza.