Israel Weaponizing Starvation, Daily Brief December 18, 2023

Daily Brief, December 18, 2023


We’ve looked at violations of international humanitarian law – the “laws of war” – on multiple sides of the Israel-Palestine crisis several times in this newsletter. Today we add another war crime: the government of Israel is using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war.

Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel. They are also willfully impeding humanitarian assistance and apparently destroying agricultural areas. In short, they are depriving Gaza’s civilian population of the means to survive.

It’s critical to understand this is not simply a byproduct of the conflict, an unfortunate result of a terrible situation. It is Israeli government policy.

Since October 7, high-ranking Israeli officials – including Defense Minister Yoav GallantNational Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Energy Minister Israel Katz – have made public statements expressing their aim to deprive civilians in Gaza of food, water, and fuel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on October 19 that Israel would not allow humanitarian assistance “in the form of food and medicines” into Gaza through its crossings “as long as our hostages are not returned.”

What’s been happening on the ground, backed by such top-level statements from Israeli leaders, is “reflecting an intent to starve civilians as a method of warfare,” as my colleague and expert Omar Shakir says.

The laws of war clearly prohibit this. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court says that intentionally starving civilians by “depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies” is a war crime.

Now, of course, taking hostages is also a war crime – it’s heinous in every way – and Hamas should release them immediately and unconditionally. No ifs, ands, or buts. However, in conflicts, their war crimes do not justify your war crimes. In fact, nothing excuses war crimes. Not for anyone.

What’s more, Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza, not to mention its illegal closure of Gaza for more than 16 years, amounts to collective punishment of the civilian population. As we have said before, this is another war crime.

As the occupying power in Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has the obligation to provide the civilian population with essential supplies. The government should bring adequate quantities of desperately needed food, medical aid, and fuel into Gaza. They should also fully restore water and electricity, and the means needed to deliver it.

The government of Israel needs to immediately stop weaponizing starvation, and concerned governments should call on Israel to do so. Countries providing military assistance and arms to Israel – the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and others – should suspend military support as long as Israeli forces continue to commit war crimes.

Iran should suspend military support to the Palestinian armed groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well, so long as they continue to commit war crimes, such as holding hostages and firing indiscriminately on civilian areas.

Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe demands an urgent and effective response from the international community. We cannot stand by as a government deliberately drives people to starvation.