On October 13, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—an impartial, neutral humanitarian organization key to the origin story of the Geneva Conventions—issued a rare and exceptional public statement reminding parties to the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law. After first condemning Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel on October 7, ICRC stated that “[t]he instructions issued by the Israeli authorities for the population of Gaza City to immediately leave their homes, coupled with the complete siege explicitly denying them food, water, and electricity, are not compatible with international humanitarian law.” The ICRC’s decision to depart from its standard practice of confidential communications to governments—given its usual strict adherence to independence and neutrality—is telling of the severity of the looming humanitarian crisis and the urgency in its appeal to governments that have stalled in getting life-saving aid into the Gaza Strip.
Five days after the ICRC statement, the situation stands as follows: the last working seawater desalination plant in the Gaza Strip shut down on October 17 from lack of fuel. Hospitals in Gaza have entered a state of collapse, running out of fuel, basic supplies, and even painkillers. The United Nations (UN) warned that water shortages have now “become a matter of life and death,” with civilians in Gaza drinking contaminated water from the only aquifer that exists in the Gaza Strip.
This dire situation exacerbates the precarity that already existed in Gaza, where more than sixty percent of the population faced food insecurity. The ICRC has mobilized sixty tons of humanitarian aid but says safe access is urgently needed. The UN World Food Programme said that 300 tons of food are either already at the Egyptian border in Rafah or on their way. Countries like Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have already sent various planes with supplies to Egypt. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, announced that the European Union (EU) is launching an EU Humanitarian Bridge operation with several flights to Egypt, beginning this week, to deliver supplies to verified humanitarian organizations on the ground. [Continue reading…]