In the heinous massacre of October 7, Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people and injured thousands in southern Israel, also taking more than 240 Israeli and foreign citizens hostage. Homes and communities were destroyed, and tens of thousands have been displaced within Israel. Since then, Israel has been attacking Gaza on an unprecedented scale. Its bombardments have already killed more than 14,800 Palestinians and injured more than 36,000. A majority of the dead and injured are women and children. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed and civilian infrastructure severely damaged, including water and sanitation facilities. More than 1.7 million people have been internally displaced. Israel’s debilitating “siege” on Gaza and ongoing restrictions on entry of aid are leading to life-threatening shortages of basic necessities. Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza continue to hold Israeli and foreign hostages in the Strip and to indiscriminately fire rockets at civilian population centers in Israel.
Gaza is home to 2.2 million Palestinians, half of whom are children. Following more than 16 years of closure by Israel and decades of Israeli movement restrictions preceding it, as well as repeated military assaults, conditions in the Strip were dire well before October 7. Israel’s current assault on the Strip has included, according Amnesty International, “indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks,” including on medical facilities, schools, and places of worship. Its widespread use of incendiary and explosive weapons in such a densely populated area deprived of necessities has predictably resulted in mass casualties and devastation, including the killing of multi-generational families.
The international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions seek to ensure that all parties to a conflict distinguish between civilians and combatants and refrain from deliberately targeting civilians or disproportionately endangering them. The use of incendiary and explosive weapons in densely populated areas, indiscriminate bombardments, collective punishment, starvation, the deliberate killing of civilians and targeting of civilian infrastructure, and the taking of hostages violate these principles and constitute war crimes. All parties must be held accountable for violations of these principles. Violations committed by a party to hostilities do not in any way detract from the obligations of all other parties, and must not be used as justification for additional atrocities.
Reverse illegal evacuation orders and protect civilians throughout Gaza
Israel issued an ineffective warning in demanding that some 1.1 million people evacuate to the south of Gaza, though there aren’t proper facilities or enough resources to accommodate them and nowhere in Gaza is safe from Israeli bombardments. The evacuation order does not detract from the Israeli military’s obligation to protect the many civilians who cannot or will not leave and remain in the north, including people receiving treatment and sheltering at hospitals. Internally displaced people must not be prevented from returning home. Vast destruction of neighborhoods, proposals put forward to prevent people returning home to the north and calls voiced by Israeli officials raise concern of forced displacement, which is a war crime.
Facilitate humanitarian access via Israel and Egypt
Full and unobstructed access to vital goods, including fuel, water, medical supplies and food must be facilitated immediately via both Israel and Egypt in order to save lives. Given the total lack of electricity in Gaza’s power grid, there is a critical need for fuel to run generators at Gaza’s hospitals, pump water and operate other critical civilian infrastructure, such as desalination facilities and sewage treatment plants. All actors must facilitate the swift and safe movement of humanitarian actors, service providers, and ambulances. As a party to the hostilities, Israel can inspect the shipments and monitor their delivery, in cooperation with agencies distributing aid, but it must not limit delivery of aid to certain areas. Decisions on delivery of aid should be made by humanitarian actors and determined based on need. Israeli officials have said that aid will not be delivered via Israel and even threatened to keep Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings closed indefinitely, but Israel bears obligations to supply humanitarian aid based on its duties as an occupying power and, at a minimum, facilitate it as a party to the hostilities. Deliberate obstruction of life-saving humanitarian aid is a war crime, as is collective punishment. Patients in need of medical treatment must also be able to access care.
Release the hostages and free all illegally held detainees
Israeli officials report that Hamas is holding 240 Israeli and foreign citizens, men, women, children, and elderly people. The taking of hostages is prohibited in international law and is morally unconscionable. They must be freed immediately and unconditionally.
Since October 7, Israeli authorities detained residents of Gaza who were legally present in its territory and in the West Bank, including Palestinians holding work permits. Israeli officials said that some 4,000 Gaza workers were being held in Israeli detention facilities. Thousands were released to Gaza on November 3, but it appears that Israel continues to hold an unknown number of Gaza workers in detention. Thousands of others are sheltering in the West Bank and Israel. Lawyers have not been given access to Israeli facilities in which people are being detained and Israel has refused to disclose the names and whereabouts of Gaza detainees or reveal on what grounds they were detained. Widespread arrests of Palestinians by Israel are also taking place throughout the West Bank and within Israel. Israel must immediately disclose the names and whereabouts of all Gaza residents being held and release any persons unlawfully detained.
- Restore electricity and water
Israel has its hand on the switch of all of Gaza’s critical civilian infrastructure, including electricity, water, and communications networks and is abusing its control over these as a tool of pressure, punishment and retaliation. On October 9, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant announced a “complete siege” on Gaza. Since then, Israel cut the supply of electricity and water purchased from Israel by the Palestinian Authority. Partial, intermittent water supply from Israel has at points been resumed, which is not enough to meet needs. Even when some water is being let in from Israel, its distribution within Gaza remains severely hindered due to lack of electricity and fuel. Israel must fully restore the supply of electricity and water immediately and unconditionally.
Israel has a responsibility to maintain phone, cellular, and internet connectivity so that humanitarian actors can provide relief, ambulances can get to the injured, people can contact their loved ones, and journalists and human rights defenders can document what’s being done in the Strip.