“No electricity, no food, no water, no gas — it’s all closed,” as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant put it. For weeks, supplies into Gaza were reduced to a trickle.
Although the recent cease-fire increased the number of trucks carrying aid to about 150 per day, that is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed for Gaza’s 2.2 million people, 80 percent of whom have been displaced by Israeli airstrikes and evacuation orders. The dearth of fuel has shut down nearly 75 percent of Gaza’s hospitals. Recent reports document Palestinians’ struggle to find food and water and the unsanitary living conditions that bring on sickness, especially in children and the elderly.
The debate about the legality of Israel’s attacks, which have reportedly killed at least 20,000 Palestinian civilians, has been dominated by its airstrikes. The Israelis claim they are striking Hamas targets hidden in civilian areas (including hospitals) — rendering any civilian deaths “collateral damage.” Critics of the bombing, in contrast, contend that the Israeli air campaign violates international human law by failing to distinguish between Hamas and ordinary Palestinians and inflicting civilian casualties that are disproportionate to the military advantage gained.
The Israeli blockade, however, is a far clearer violation of international humanitarian law. The irony is that the suffering of Palestinian civilians will not achieve Israel’s aims.
Food deprivation has long been a weapon of war. In sieges — the predominant form of warfare for much of history — attackers attempted to coerce defenders to surrender by starving civilian populations. According to Michael Walzer in his classic work “Just and Unjust Wars,” civilian deaths are “expected to force the hand of the civilian or military leadership.”
“The goal is surrender; the means is not the defeat of the enemy army, but the fearful spectacle of the civilian dead,” it reads. [Continue reading…]