Humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm on Tuesday, urging international aid for Gaza as Israel imposes a stricter blockade on the territory. This comes as experts, while condemning the Hamas attacks on Israelis as “abhorrent,” warn that an all-encompassing blockade could lead to catastrophic shortages affecting food, water, and electricity for millions of innocent civilians.
“It’s going to affect everything,” states Michael Lynk, the former United Nations special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory. “Gaza is a perpetual case of humanitarian disaster. But this is not earthquakes that are occurring or typhoons that are occurring. This is human-made disasters.”
Toll of the Blockade
According to the experts, the blockade will have a profound impact on Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, limiting access to vital resources like food, water, electricity, medical supplies, and sewage treatment. The United Nations has previously stated that such a blockade contravenes international humanitarian law. However, without a firm stance from the international community, civilians are expected to suffer the most.
On the Israeli stance, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced on Monday that there would be a complete cessation of supplies to Gaza, following a significant attack by Hamas militants on Israel this past Saturday.
Violence Leaves Thousands Dead and Injured
This recent bout of violence has resulted in staggering casualties. The audacious assault by Hamas led to the death of over 1,000 Israelis and the capture of approximately 150 civilians and soldiers. Hamas has threatened to execute some of these hostages if Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza without prior warning. On the Palestinian side, the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported on Tuesday that nearly 900 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict escalated, with large areas of Gaza now in ruins.
Since 2007, the movement of people and goods, including essential items like food and water, has been regulated under an Israeli blockade. While Israel withdrew its military forces from the territory in 2005 due to international pressure, it maintains the blockade as a measure to safeguard its citizens from Hamas.
“Israel controls everything that goes in and out of the Gaza Strip,” says Lynk, who has been to Gaza numerous times during his tenure with the UN in Jerusalem. He raises dire concerns about the imminent shortages, predicting the onset of starvation in just a few days and emphasizing that two-thirds of Gaza’s residents would face a lack of clean drinking water.
Healthcare and Sanitation Concerns
Further complications arise with the blockade affecting sewage treatment, potentially leading to untreated sewage in the streets of Gaza and increased risk of disease outbreaks.
The medical system, already strained, faces further deterioration. “Significant shortages” in medical supplies will exacerbate the situation. “The doctors and the hospitals are going to be overwhelmed,” Lynk warns.
The UN highlighted the gravity of the situation, with a spokesperson stating that nearly 187,500 individuals have already fled their homes in Gaza. Furthermore, the Rafah crossing into Egypt, the only exit route from Gaza, was shut on Tuesday.
Reacting to the healthcare crisis, the World Health Organization has demanded the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to enable the transportation of essential medical supplies into Gaza.
International Reactions and Legal Implications
International bodies and organizations have expressed deep concern over the intensifying situation. Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, described the blockade as an “utter disaster” for the civilians in Gaza. He stressed that collective punishment clearly violates international law, adding, “If and when it would lead to wounded children dying in hospitals because of a lack of energy, electricity and supplies, it could amount to war crimes.”
The International Criminal Court, in a statement on Tuesday, mentioned that its prosecutor is currently gathering data on the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, hinting at possible legal repercussions for those involved.
UN’s secretary-general Antonio Guterres emphasized the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, urging international partners to bolster humanitarian aid efforts. Guterres acknowledged Israel’s security concerns but also reminded them to adhere to international humanitarian laws.
Call for Political Resolve
Lynk, currently a professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Law, accentuated the importance of political will in enforcing international laws. He expressed concern over the lack of effective international courts and the absence of a strong international commitment to uphold these laws.
The UN-appointed commission of inquiry highlighted the possible breach of war crimes by all parties involved, emphasizing its focus on collecting evidence for future legal consequences.