B’TSELEM, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has produced a report which concludes: “The humanitarian crisis currently underway in the Gaza Strip is not a side effect of the war, but the direct intended result of the policy implemented by Israel. The people behind this policy see inflicting a humanitarian crisis on more than two million people as a legitimate way to put pressure on Hamas.”
To accompany the report B’Tselem released the following statement on 7 December:
Life in the Gaza Strip right now is an unimaginable nightmare, and its residents’ chances of survival are diminishing with each passing day. The Strip has been closed off almost entirely for two months, and the humanitarian crisis is breaking records daily. Aid organisations have lost the capacity to deal with the fallout and struggle to find words to describe the disaster and the dangers it presents. There is not enough fuel, food, water and medicine. There are no hospitals capable of providing medical care for the thousands injured in Israel’s incessant bombings all over the Gaza Strip, which have already killed more than 15,000 people, including about 6,000 babies, children and teenagers and roughly 4,000 women.
The humanitarian crisis currently underway in the Gaza Strip is not a side effect of the war, but the direct intended result of the policy implemented by Israel. The people behind this policy see inflicting a humanitarian crisis on more than two million people as a legitimate way to put pressure on Hamas.
Closing the crossings and allowing a minuscule amount of aid that cannot begin to meet civilians’ needs is tantamount to deliberately starving the population. International humanitarian law prohibits deliberate starvation as a method of warfare. This norm has attained customary status, meaning it applies to all countries. Violating this prohibition is a war crime under the Rome Statute.
The entry of humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip is not a gesture Israel is being asked to make towards the civilian population. It is its duty. According to the rules of international humanitarian law, when the civilian population lacks the means to survive, parties to the conflict have a positive obligation to allow the “rapid and unimpeded passage” of humanitarian supplies, including food and medicine. Aid should be delivered consistently such that people can rely on receiving it the next day as well.
Israel has used this policy before when it imposed the closure on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas took power. In October 2010, following a Freedom of Information petition submitted by Israeli human rights NGO Gisha, it came to light that for years, Israel had employed a deliberately restrictive policy that relied on intricate calculations of the minimal caloric intake Gaza residents need to survive. It was illegal and cruel then. It is illegal and cruel now. The war crimes committed by Hamas in its horrific attack on October 7th, in the illegal holding of hostages and with the firing of rockets at Israelis throughout the war, cannot serve as a reasoning or justification for the denial of food, water, medicines and fuel to more than two million human beings.
At a press conference held on the evening of 5 December 2023, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip would be a problem for Israel, and hence the need to address it, saying: “Any breakdown, from disease to water contamination, could halt the fighting.” Defence Minister Gallant added: “We’re required to allow the humanitarian minimum to allow for the military pressure to continue.”
This is a cynical, twisted and instrumental approach to the lives of more than two million people who are being forced these days to muster whatever strength they have remaining to find water, food and shelter for themselves and their families in order to survive, during incessant Israeli strikes. Yet, these statements are also astounding in their honesty: The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister admit, in front of cameras, that Israel is deliberately manufacturing a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. If Israel wills it, the crisis will be solved. If it does not, it will continue. This is a confession to a war crime.
Israel must change its horrifying policy, detailed in this document, before these predictions come true. The profound violation of human dignity encapsulated in this policy, the perception of Gaza’s two million residents as devoid of humanity, desires and needs, as no more than pawns in the game of war – are unjustifiable and must end.
* Read Humanitarian catastrophe as policy here.
* Source: B’Tselem