The IDF has a humanitarian duty to ensure supply of water and electricity to the residents of the Gaza Strip

On July 23rd, Yesh Din – along with several other human rights organizations, led by Gisha – sent an urgent letter to the Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, asking him to order the IDF to carry out its obligations to the civil population in Gaza.

The infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was nothing to write home about, to say the least, even before Operation Protective Edge; but the widespread attack on the Strip caused it severe damage. The damage is particularly heavy when it comes to water: OCHA (the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) estimates that out of a population of 1.8 million, 1.2 didn’t have running water on July 22nd, and that they are suffering from sanitation problems. The water problem is critical: waste water is flooding the Strip’s drinking water, putting all those who drink it at risk and raising the fear diseases spreading. Furthermore, the waste water flows to the sea and pollutes it at a rate of 67 million liters a day. And as if that wasn’t enough, three of the workers of the local water authority were killed since the fighting began – at least two of them, according to UNRWA, by an IDF airstrike. As a result, the workers of the water authority are afraid to go out and fix the water infrastructure, which has been severely damaged.

Eitan Diamond, the CEO of Gisha, said in a phone interview with An Isolated Incident, that “more than a million people now lack regular water supply. The sewage system is collapsing, flooding, and harming the water cisterns. We begin to see indications that infection and lack of water are harming people. If this continues, the number of casualties is expected to climb very high – and there is a fear, already raised by the aid organizations, of a humanitarian crisis.” Diamond called for allowing “immediate treatment” which will allow the reconstruction of the infrastructure and reasonable maintenance of it. At the moment, unfortunately, the people who carry out maintenance are exposed to danger, and some of them have been hit and killed.” Diamond further noted that the residents of the Gaza Strip presently receive only a small fraction of the amount of electricity they need.

And here comes the part most Israelis won’t want to read: Israel is responsible for all of this. Why? Because it has controlled the Gaza Strip for almost 40 years, and even after the Disengagement did not cease control of significant parts of life in the Strip. Therefore, it is obligated to handle the humanitarian needs of the Gazan population. And no, as this jurist’s letter – also organized by Gisha – shows, the concept that the Gaza Strip is its own political body has no basis. Israel maintained a long list of powers in Gaza, including control of the water and electricity infrastructure. In the Basiouni Decision of 2008 (Hebrew document), the High Court of Justice ruled that where Israel maintained control, it is responsible for the people of Gaza. For years, Israel has prevented the residents of Gaza from developing their own infrastructure, making them dependent on Israel; it therefore cannot stop supplying them now.

And Israel is responsible not only for water, which I think no decent person would claim Gazans have no right to, but also for electricity. First of all, the lack of electricity is one of the main reasons for the water problem: electricity is essential to the sewage treatment facilities. Secondly, the dozen of hospitals in the Strip, and its clinics, also need electricity to function. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been living without electricity for the past several days.

Gaza gets its electricity from three sources: ten power lines from Israel; three from Egypt; and a small amount the Strip generates for itself. Six of the power lines coming from Israel have been hit, according to Israel by fire coming from Gaza, and Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered they should not be fixed. The result is a decline of 48% in the amount of electricity entering the Strip. Supplying electricity is another one of Israel’s humanitarian duties. But as mentioned above, Israel prevents Gaza from developing its own electricity infrastructure, controls its border crossings – even the Rafah Checkpoint, which is not directly controlled by Israel, cannot be crossed without a document issued based on the Palestinian Population Record, which is controlled by Israel – and has never given up much of its control.

We therefore called upon the Defense Minister to ensure the IDF avoids harming the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip; avoids harming the infrastructure workers who fix and maintain it; to immediately fix the damages to the infrastructure on the Israeli side; to allow the entrance of equipment to fix the infrastructure without any delay; and at the end of the fighting – to lift the closure the Strip is under and allow movement of people and goods to it and from it.

The letter is signed by Yesh Din, Gisha, Amnesty International Israel, Bimkom, B’Tselem, The Israeli Civil Liberties Union, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, Machsom Watch, Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights.