Human Rights Watch has called for the Israeli government to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is putting Palestinian children and civilians at risk. The collective punishment of the population is a war crime, and the blockade is causing a humanitarian crisis.
Israel has announced that it will allow food, water, and medicine reach people in southern Gaza from Egypt, but without electricity or fuel, this falls short of meeting the needs of Gaza’s population. The blockade has exacerbated the longstanding humanitarian crisis, with over 80% of the population relying on aid.
Doctors in Gaza are unable to care for children and other patients due to the overwhelming number of victims of Israeli airstrikes. Public health officials warn that the lack of water, contamination by sewage, and unsafe storage of bodies could trigger an infectious disease outbreak.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has nearly half the population of 2.2 million, is part of efforts to defeat Hamas, following its October 7 attack on Israel. The blockade has resulted in the deaths of over 1,300 people, including children, and taken scores of civilians, including women and children, as hostages.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced a complete siege, resulting in no electricity, water, food, or fuel. As of October 18, 3,478 Palestinians have been killed, with over 1,000 children among those killed.
The laws of war do not prohibit sieges or blockades of enemy forces, but they may not prevent civilians’ access to essential items for survival, such as water, food, and medicine. Parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid passage of impartial humanitarian aid for all civilians in need, with aid inspection but not arbitrarily delayed.
During military occupations, such as in Gaza, the occupying power has a duty to ensure the food and medical supplies of the population, prohibiting starvation as a war crime. Under international human rights law, states must respect the right to water, refrain from limiting access to water services and infrastructure, and protect essential objects for civilian survival.
Israel’s blockade against the Gaza population is part of the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution committed against Palestinians. On October 17, news media reported that Israel refused to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, while Egypt refused to allow Palestinians to cross into the Sinai. Both countries should allow civilians to pass through their crossings for temporary protection or life-saving medical care, and ensure voluntary return in safety and dignity.