In war crime, Israel is still blocking water, electricity to Gaza’s Palestinian civilians

Willfully impeding relief supplies is a war crime, as is collectively punishing civilians for the actions of armed groups.

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SOURCEHuman Rights Watch
Image Credit: Human Rights Watch

The Israeli government is deliberately deepening the suffering of civilians in Gaza by refusing to restore the flow of water and electricity and blocking fuel shipments. Willfully impeding relief supplies is a war crime, as is collectively punishing civilians for the actions of armed groups.

On October 7, Hamas-led fighters crossed into southern Israel and committed the worst civilian massacre in Israeli history, gunning down families, burning people in their homes, and taking more than 200 hostages. Those atrocities were war crimes.

The fact that Palestinian fighters committed unspeakable war crimes against Israeli civilians does not justify Israeli authorities committing war crimes against Palestinian civilians.

Gaza’s infrastructure relies on the flow of electricity and drinking water from Israel and supply trucks entering via the Israeli crossings, but Israel cut those supplies following the attacks. By blocking objects necessary for the survival of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, nearly half of whom are children, Israel is punishing all of Gaza’s civilians for Hamas’s attacks.

Israel, as the occupying power in Gaza, is required under the Geneva Conventions to ensure civilians have access to basic goods, and, as a party to the armed conflict, it must facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. During previous hostilities, it has maintained electricity and water supply to Gaza and found ways to open its truck crossings. Not this time. “We will not allow humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicines from our territory to the Gaza Strip,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week. Article continues after bonus IC video
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As of October 24, the Israeli military has allowed a total of 34 supply truckloads, overseen by UN agencies, to enter via Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza, far fewer than the 100 daily truckloads aid agencies say are the minimum needed. Israeli authorities have also refused to allow fuel, saying Hamas diverts it for its use. Fuel is desperately needed for hospital generators, water and sewage pumping, and aid delivery. While the laws of war allow a warring party to take steps to ensure shipments do not include weapons, deliberately impeding relief supplies is prohibited.

The roots of the violence in Israel-Palestine are multiple and run deep; the October 7 atrocities triggered another round of violence and tragedy for civilians in Israel and Palestine. All parties should respect international humanitarian law and not commit unlawful attacks on civilians. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups should immediately release all civilian hostages. Israel should restore the flow of electricity and water, allow monitored fuel into Gaza via Rafah, and take the necessary steps to open its own crossings into Gaza for humanitarian aid.

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Sari Bashi, Program Director at Human Rights Watch, leads the organization’s research, supervising a staff of 270 people in 50 countries, working on 18 regional and thematic human rights areas. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Sari co-founded and ran Gisha, the leading Israeli human rights group promoting the right to freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. She has taught international humanitarian law at Yale Law School and Tel Aviv University and supervised research at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). She is the author of Maqluba: Upside Down Love (Hebrew), an award-winning story about love in the shadow of the Israeli occupation, and she has worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press. Bashi earned her B.A. (summa cum laude) from Yale University and her J.D. from Yale Law School. She is a marathon and ultra-marathon runner and author of the Umm Forat blog about raising her children in the occupied West Bank. (www.ummforat.com).

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