Total blackout in Gaza: Israel is imposing a humanitarian disaster on Palestinians in the Strip

The deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime

This is the fifth day of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, following horrific massacres committed by Palestinian militants in southern Israel and the indiscriminate launching of thousands of rockets on civilian population centers throughout the country, actions which amount to war crimes. The numbers of dead, missing and injured, and the scope of the destruction continues to unfold. At present, Israel is attacking in Gaza in what appears to be an unprecedented scale, raining destruction on the Strip, from which it’s difficult to see how the population will recover. Indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force against civilians, and attacks on residential homes and civilian infrastructure are prohibited and represent grave violations of international humanitarian law.  

As of today, Gaza’s power plant has stopped operating for lack of fuel, meaning there is no supply of energy through Gaza’s electrical grid and the Strip has been plunged into a total blackout. This spells an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as of 14:30 (Jerusalem time), the death toll in Gaza has reached 1,055 and more than 5,000 people have been injured. Some 60% of the injured are women and children. According to the United Nations, bombardments have caused extensive damage to residential homes and critical civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including hospitals and other medical facilities. The number of killed and injured, and the  extent of the destruction, continues to mount. Supply of medicine, medical equipment, and other vital items are fast running out.  

On October 9, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant announced: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” On the evening of October 7, Israeli Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Israel Katz announced a decision to stop supply of electricity to the Strip, which ran through 10 feeder lines that had been damaged throughout the day on Saturday, apparently by rocket fire. On Monday, October 9, he announced that supply of water purchased from Israel by the Palestinian Authority for Gaza would be cut immediately as well.   

Yesterday, Egypt closed Salah a-Din Gate, between Gaza and Egypt, to the movement of goods due to bombardments by Israel. Even if it were to open and entry of fuel to resume, the supply would likely not be enough for operating the plant as well as ambulances and generators, which are used throughout the Strip to cope with the chronic shortage of power, including in hospitals, water and sanitation infrastructure, and homes. 

The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) warned that Israel’s cuts to its direct supply of water, which normally accounts for some 30% of Gaza’s total water supply, severely compound the existing shortages of water available to the civilian population, also affecting the water quality within the distribution network. The lack of electricity and shortages of fuel had already led to the stopping of operations at numerous desalination facilities as well as wastewater treatment plants, before this blackout. The consequences are lack of drinking water for the population, the inability to pump water to homes, and to pump sewage away from homes and for treatment. Untreated sewage is being dumped into the sea wholesale for lack of ability to run wastewater facilities, posing further health and environmental threats. 

Israel’s decision to completely cut supply of water, food, fuel, electricity, medicine and other goods to Gaza comes against the backdrop of an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Strip, itself caused in large part by Israel’s 16-year closure of Gaza and decades of movement restrictions preceding it, as well as its repeated attacks on the Strip.  

Yet the actions of the last several days represent a depth of depravity unseen, a total disregard for the civilian population, and cruel, illegal acts of retaliation.

We call on people of reason and the international community writ large to intervene immediately and demand that Israel respect international law, refrain from targeting of civilians, and restore supply of water and electricity. Humanitarian access must be facilitated without delay. Palestinian actors must also abide by international law, including in their treatment of hostages.