Human Rights Watch claims Israel starving Gaza civilians ‘as a method of warfare’

In response, Foreign Ministry bashes group as an ‘antisemitic and anti-Israeli organization’ with ‘no moral basis’ that failed to condemn Hamas’s October 7 massacre

Workers and staff unload medical aid delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Workers and staff unload medical aid delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Human Rights Watch on Monday accused Israel of intentionally starving the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, citing comments from high-ranking officials and interviews with displaced Palestinian people in the Hamas-run enclave.

“Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival,” Human Rights Watch charged in a statement.

Among other comments, the statement cited Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on October 9, two days after the Hamas terror group’s murderous rampage in southern Israel, announcing that he had ordered “a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.”

Israel hit back at HRW over its report on Monday, calling it an “antisemitic and anti-Israeli organization.”

“Human Rights Watch… did not condemn the attack on Israeli citizens and the massacre of October 7 and has no moral basis to talk about what’s going on in Gaza if they turn a blind eye to the suffering and the human rights of Israelis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat told AFP.

War erupted in Gaza on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists flooded into Israel via land, air and sea, massacring some 1,200 people amid brutal atrocities and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group, and began a wide-scale offensive in Gaza that the Hamas-run health ministry says has left more than 18,800 people dead. That figure cannot be independently verified, and is believed to include both civilians and Hamas members, including those killed as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. Israel says it has killed some 7,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza.

“For over two months, Israel has been depriving Gaza’s population of food and water, a policy spurred on or endorsed by high-ranking Israeli officials and reflecting an intent to starve civilians as a method of warfare,” HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, said in the statement. “World leaders should be speaking out against this abhorrent war crime, which has devastating effects on Gaza’s population.”

The Human Rights Watch statement included quotes from Gazans describing the humanitarian situation in the Strip between November 24 and December 4. The UN estimates 1.9 million people in Gaza have been displaced, while aid groups fear the territory will soon be overwhelmed by starvation and disease.

Palestinians loot a humanitarian aid truck as it crossed into the Gaza Strip in Rafah, December 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

“We had no food, no electricity, no internet, nothing at all,” the rights group quoted a Palestinian man who fled northern Gaza as saying.

Immediately after October 7, in line with Gallant’s statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged not to allow any aid into Gaza, essentially imposing a siege on the Hamas-run enclave.

Two weeks later, however, Israel began allowing aid trucks into the Strip through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, while keeping its own Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed, arguing it that it would not directly facilitate the entry of aid into Gaza as long as hostages remained inside.

Just over a month into the war, Israel approved the entry of fuel tankers into Gaza for the first time, after Netanyahu had initially declared that “not one drop” would be allowed in since it would be diverted by Hamas.

A few weeks later, as part of a Qatar-led truce that saw Hamas release 105 hostages at the end of November, Israel agreed to a major spike in deliveries from 50 to 200 trucks per day, and on Sunday Israel began allowing aid to enter via Kerem Shalom.

The amount of aid still lags well behind the 500 trucks a day that entered Gaza before the war, and videos have circulated showing gunmen, reportedly Hamas operatives, stealing trucks delivering humanitarian aid from Egypt.

Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” which goes against international humanitarian law and constitutes collective punishment. The group charged that as the “occupying power in Gaza,” Israel is responsible for the population getting food and medical supplies.

As well as food and medicine, the statement accused Israel of shutting down wastewater and desalination facilities via fuel and electricity outages.

Last month, Israel said that there was no lack of food, water and humanitarian supplies in Gaza. A Defense Ministry official said that two of the three water pipelines from Israel to Gaza were operational, and that some of the desalination plants and water treatment facilities that supply the territory with 90 percent of its water during peacetime were operational, particularly in southern Gaza.

The HRW statement also called on “concerned governments” to apply pressure on Israel “to end these abuses,” singling out the US, the UK, Canada and Germany for giving military assistance to Israel while “its forces continue to commit widespread and serious abuses amounting to war crimes against civilians with impunity.”

A Palestinian man warms under his makeshift tent at a camp for displaced people in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip where most civilians have taken refuge amid the Israel-Hamas war, on December 13, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The statement came as the United Nations Security Council was set to vote on a draft resolution later Monday that calls for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access in the Gaza Strip” and the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”

Last week, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages. The UNGA’s 193 members voted overwhelmingly for a ceasefire, with 153 in favor — exceeding the 140 or so countries that have routinely backed resolutions condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The upcoming Security Council resolution was introduced by Arab countries that came away from last Tuesday’s General Assembly vote bolstered by the broad international support, though the latest text’s fate remains uncertain. The US vetoed a Security Council resolution 10 days ago that urged an immediate ceasefire.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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