On October 21, following pressure from the international community, Israel began allowing some aid to enter Gaza via Egypt. US President Biden stated that up to 20 truckloads of aid, containing only food, water, and medicine, would enter per day “to begin with.” The Israeli army spokesperson also noted that the aid could only be distributed in southern Gaza. Israel continues to block fuel and electricity supply, including via Egypt.
The amount of aid entering Gaza through Rafah Crossing falls far short of meeting the needs of Gaza’s civilian population, needs which have been compounded by weeks of bombardment, blockade and an imposed electricity blackout. Until October 7, more than 500 truckloads of goods entered Gaza per day on average (from both Israel and Egypt). Between October 7 and October 29, a total of just 117 trucks of aid have been allowed into the Strip. Given the lack of electricity in Gaza’s electric grid, the Strip needs massive quantities of fuel to operate back-up generators running 24/7 at hospitals, and in order to pump water for distribution throughout the Strip, for treatment of sewage, for trucks delivering goods, and for ambulances rescuing those injured in the bombardment.
Fuel is being rationed at hospitals such that only critical services are available. Clean drinking water is scarce and reports indicate that Gaza residents are consuming brackish water from wells, which is already resulting in illness. This, together with lack of sanitation services, poses severe public health risks.
On October 24, the Israeli military responded to a tweet by UNRWA warning of the imminent halt in all its operations, ostensibly showing aerial footage of fuel tanks in Gaza “containing 500,000 liters of diesel fuel controlled by Hamas.” Even if this unverified figure is correct, it would amount to only 2% of the diesel that entered Gaza each month on average, before October 7. In 2023, about 14 million liters of diesel entered Gaza on average each month from Israel and around 11 million liters from Egypt. An additional 2.5 million liters of benzene (gasoline) and approximately 5,000 tons of cooking gas entered via Egypt monthly and close to half a million liters of benzene and 3,000 tons of cooking gas from Israel.
The UN and other organizations are documenting the extent and severity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel’s attempt to deny the urgent need for fuel in the Strip, after it purposefully blocked access, is yet another sign of its ongoing effort to shirk responsibility for the Palestinian civilian population and deflect criticism of its policies, which are causing human suffering.
Israel knows full well the need for entry of goods, including fuel and electricity – and it knows that it is the civilian population in Gaza that is paying the highest price for its decision to deny these basic necessities. Israel must allow full humanitarian access for Gaza and it cannot limit aid in amount or area of delivery. Decisions on the distribution of aid should be made by humanitarian actors alone.
Israel’s ongoing obstruction of entry of goods, including fuel, and its refusal to restore full water and electricity supply is illegal collective punishment. Atrocities committed by Hamas or other actors do not absolve Israel of its legal obligations. International humanitarian law is universal and must be adhered to by all parties at all times.