Tuesday, March 22, 2022. For ten months and counting, Israel has blocked the entry of thousands of items and materials needed to repair and maintain Gaza’s water and sewage systems, exacerbating their already precarious state and impeding water supply and sanitation services to Gaza’s residents. A new factsheet released by Gisha today, Still Waters, examines Israel’s inordinate delays in processing applications to coordinate the entry of crucial equipment into Gaza since May 2021.


During the May 2021 attack on Gaza, Israel blocked the entry of most goods, including raw materials, spare parts, and many other items essential for the functioning of Gaza’s water and sanitation infrastructure. It was not until August 2021 that Israel began allowing some items that had been stuck in storage for months to enter Gaza, and resumed coordination for entry of items. However, continued stalling by Israel has effectively prevented most of these items from entering the Strip. As a result, Gaza faces a dire shortage of thousands items required not only for repairing damage caused in May bombardments, but also for ongoing maintenance and development projects funded by international organizations.


The thousands of parts and materials blocked from entering the Strip over the past ten months are items Israel considers “dual-use,” meaning items used primarily for civilian purposes, which may, according to Israel, be used militarily as well. Years of restrictions imposed by Israel on access to so-called “dual-use” items have hindered development of Gaza’s water and sewage systems, which were struggling to provide adequate services even before they sustained additional damage in May.


According to the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), only about 20% of tap water in the Strip is potable, and only a quarter of households have access to water fit for human use. Limited capacity at desalination plants and sewage treatment facilities threaten the quantity and quality of drinking water available in Gaza and result in partially treated wastewater flowing into the sea, posing further environmental and health risks to residents. The total collapse of a major desalination plant and sewage treatment station in Gaza was recently averted thanks to urgent intervention by international officials, but this kind of intervention cannot be exerted for each of the thousands of items required for routine system maintenance.


Israel’s control over Gaza’s crossings comes with a legal and moral obligation to protect the human rights of residents and ensure access to all that is needed to facilitate normal life in the Strip, including water and sewage services. This obligation is only enhanced given the damage caused by Israel to water infrastructure relied on by Gaza’s two million residents in May 2021.


After the May attack, Israeli officials claimed the state had to “permit the basic humanitarian response,” while, at the same time, clarifying that Gaza’s reconstruction would be made contingent on the return of the Israeli civilians and soldiers’ bodies allegedly held by Hamas and its commitment to long-term quiet. In practice, by delaying entry of essential equipment, Israel is, in fact, leveraging the humanitarian needs of Gaza’s residents as a bargaining chip for political gain, at the expense of human rights and lives. This cruel conduct is wrong and illegal, and it must come to an end. Israel must allow the immediate entry of all items required for Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.


To the factseet Still Waters, see here.