Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has said that the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza is not a side effect of the war, but instead the intended result of the policy implemented by Israel. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli government sees inflicting a humanitarian crisis on more than 2 million people in Gaza is a legitimate means to pressure Hamas.

Closing crossings and allowing a minuscule amount of aid that cannot begin to meet civilians’ needs is tantamount to deliberately starving the population, B’Tselem has said.  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.

B’Tselem says that allowing entry of humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip is not a gesture Israel is being asked to make towards the civilian population, but 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.

According to B’Tselem, 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.

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.” Defense Minister Gallant added: “We’re required to allow the humanitarian minimum to allow for the military pressure to continue.”

B’Tselem have described this as a “cynical, twisted and instrumental approach to the lives of more than two million people”, and said it is “a confession to a war crime”.

“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”, the organisation said.

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Image credit: 10 Downing Street – Creative Commons