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 Palestinian men carry bread through a heavily bombed street following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City on October 10, 2023.   © 2023 Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

This week, as it pounded Gaza from the sky following Hamas’s deadly weekend attacks, the Israeli government also cut off Gaza’s electricity, fuel, water, and food in what it described as a “total siege.” Fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant has run out and it has shut down. Without fuel or electricity, the internet has been disrupted and the area’s water pumping wells may be forced out of service. These moves risk exacerbating the situation in Gaza, where conditions were already dire after 16 years of crushing restrictions. In this context, some European governments’ recent announcements about freezing development assistance to Palestine are deeply worrying.

Israeli authorities, the occupying power over Gaza under international law, have a duty to ensure that the basic needs of the population are met. Instead, they have since 2007 run Gaza as an “open air prison,” imposing sweeping restrictions on the movement of people and goods. In the wake of the weekend attacks, authorities are now closing those prison walls in further.

The Hamas-led attackers killed people in their homes, massacred partiers at a music festival and kidnapped children, older people and others. Deliberately shooting civilians and taking civilians hostage are war crimes. The individuals who perpetrated these atrocities should be brought to justice.

But depriving the entire population of Gaza of electricity and fuel for the actions of individuals is a form of collective punishment. Israel’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure has made it clear the recent Hamas attacks are “why we decided to stop the flow of water, electricity and fuel.” These tactics are war crimes, as is using starvation as a weapon of war.

The International Criminal Court has already affirmed the court’s mandate applies to crimes committed in the current hostilities. The international community should provide practical and political support to investigations.

Due to Israel’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment, hospitals, which are running out of space, capacity to treat patients, and many medications, are no longer safe havens. The World Health Organization has documented 22 attacks on health care facilities in Gaza since October 7. Neither are refugee camps, schools or UN compounds, which have all been bombed in recent days.

In response to Hamas’ rampage, Denmark ($13M), Sweden ($5M), Germany ($131M), and Austria ($20M) have suspended bilateral development aid programs, which also include funding for the UN, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and civil society organizations. In contrast, the UK has embarked on a review of its development programming without suspending or stopping aid payments.

Earlier in the week, the European Union indicated continued development assistance is going to be put under review to avoid even indirect support to Hamas. On Tuesday, the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, clarified that “an overwhelming majority of EU member states” prefer continuing support to the Palestinian Authority, and assured that any review would be quick and wouldn’t affect due payments. Borrell added that he does “not believe” EU funding could have gone to Hamas’s “terrorist activities.”

Funding for humanitarian assistance does not appear to be in jeopardy at the moment, but practically, no aid is currently entering Gaza. Israel has also reportedly threatened to block humanitarian aid entering via Egypt.

The truth is that the perpetrators of the October 7 attacks are unlikely to bear the brunt of these aid freezes by Germany, Austria, Sweden, and others. Hamas has long been designated as a terrorist organization and would have been ineligible for aid anyway. Instead, these reviews and suspensions risk slowing assistance to civil society organizations and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, punishing millions of Palestinian civilians who are already facing unprecedented repression and violence. 

Some donors seem compelled to triple-check whether any of their aid ended up in Hamas’ pockets, even though practitioners and even the very proponents of reviews are skeptical that could have happened due to existing safeguards. But they shouldn’t stop payments or aid deliveries while they conduct these reviews. Standing against Hamas’ assault does not require cutting off vital lifelines for the Palestinian people.

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