‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 20: Human Rights Group Warns Israel Is ‘Using Starvation as a Weapon of War’ in Gaza

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 30 Oct 2023

Leila Warah | Mondoweiss - TRANSCEND Media Service

Palestinians inspect a bakery that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, killing eight people in the central Gaza Strip, on October 25, 2023.
(Photo: Naaman Omar/APA Images)

26 Oct 2023 – As Israel’s Gaza assault enters day 20, food, clean water, and fuel are running out. Oxfam warns “millions of civilians are being collectively punished in full view of the world, there can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war.”

Casualties 

  • 7,028 Palestinians killed in Gaza, including 2,913 children
  • 103 Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank

Key Developments 

  • Gaza has ‘virtually run out’ of clean water, according to British charity organization Oxfam.
  • Palestine’s top graduate of 2023, Shaimaa Akram Saydam, is among those killed in Gaza along with her pregnant mother, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Al-Wafa hospital in central Gaza is no longer functioning as a medical facility “due to the Israeli ongoing bombardment in this area,” reports Al Jazeera journalist Tareq Abu Azzoum.
  • Days after Blinken demands the channel’s coverage be ‘toned down’, Israel kills Al-Jazeera correspondent Wael El-Dahdouh’s family. He is described as “the backbone of Al Jazeera’s coverage in Gaza” by his colleagues.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden casts doubt on the death toll in Gaza provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health despite having no evidence or alternative numbers.
  • 38 UNRWA employees have been killed in Gaza since October 7, half employed as teachers.

Key Statistics from the Palestinian Ministry of Health

  • Around 45 percent of housing units have been completely and partially destroyed.
  • Around 219 educational facilities have been hit by Israeli bombardment, including at least 29 UNRWA schools.
  • Approximately 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced.
  • 24 hospitals have received evacuation notices from Israel in northern Gaza.
  • Hospitals are operating at more than 150 percent of their capacity.
  • At least 130 neonatal babies dependent on incubators are at risk of death due to lack of electricity.
  • There are approximately 166 unsafe births taking place per day in Gaza.
  • 101 health personnel have been killed by Israeli strikes, over 100 others wounded.

Gaza’s population of over 2 million, which continues to be carpet bombed, is still being denied fuel, clean water, and adequate food supply by Israel’s ongoing siege on the enclave.

The situation is “horrific” as millions are being “collectively punished in full view of the world,” says Oxfam, a British charity focused on alleviating global poverty.

“It’s estimated that only three liters of clean water are now available per person. The UN said a minimum of 15 liters a day is essential for people in the most acute humanitarian emergencies as a bare minimum,” they stated.

The statement also said that according to a UNRWA spokesperson, without clean water and fuel, some of the food allowed in on humanitarian convoys, including rice and lentils, is useless because people don’t have the clean water or fuel to prepare them.

“There can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war.” 

— Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Regional Middle East Director

“There can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war. World leaders cannot continue to sit back and watch; they have an obligation to act,” they said in a statement, noting that starvation as a “method of warfare” is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.

In the south of Gaza, a UNRWA school in Rafah, sheltering 4,600 people “sustained severe collateral damage from a proximity strike,” says the human rights group, while highlighting that if fuel is not allowed to enter Gaza, they will be “forced to significantly reduce and in some cases bring humanitarian operations to a halt.”

“The occupation’s bombing erased entire families from the civil registry; erased neighborhoods and residential communities with their inhabitants; and also destroyed facilities including hospitals, places of worship, bakeries, water filling stations, markets, schools, and educational and service institutions,” said the Minister of Public Works and Housing Mohammad Ziyara.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces continued their mass arrest campaign in occupied East Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank, including in the cities of Hebron, Nablus, and Shuafat neighborhood, where dozens of heavily armed Israeli soldiers were seen.

Al Jazeera reported that at least 85 Palestinians were arrested overnight by Israeli forces.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society reported that Israeli forces killed at least 103 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank during army raids, including two who died in Israeli custody.

‘The state of the freedom of journalism in this war is catastrophic

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that this is the deadliest period for people covering Palestine and Israel since they began counting two decades ago.

“This is the deadliest time we have on record,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program director.

“Journalists are paying [sacrifices] in covering war but for Gaza specifically, it’s an exponential risk doing it without having access to the outside world, access to resources, and no safe place to go,” he told Al Jazeera in light of Israeli bombardment targeting and killing the family of the media organization’s Arabic-language Gaza correspondent, Wael Dahdouh, on Thursday evening.

Turkey’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said on X that it is “difficult to believe that this was random, as Israel has been trying to stop the truth coming out from Gaza. These kinds of attacks amount to employing terror tactics against journalists to silence them.”

“We advise the Israeli government to come to its senses about the crimes they have been committing on a daily basis. It needs to come to terms with the fact that the source of the conflict is the ongoing occupation,” Altun continued.

Similarly, the former head of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, Aidan White, has described Israel’s targeting of journalists and their families in Gaza as “shocking” while talking to Al Jazeera.

“The state of the freedom of journalism in this war is catastrophic. The death of the family of our colleague shows that no place is safe and there’s no shelter for the innocent, and that journalists are a target,” said White.

As of Thursday, CPJ reports that 24 journalists, 20 Palestinian, 3 Israeli, and 1 Lebanese, have been killed since October 7. In addition, eight journalists have been injured, and three are either missing or detained.

Israel’s looming ground invasion

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised statement that they are preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza. However, it is unclear when the operation will take place, as the Prime Minister declined to provide additional information.

The army reported conducting a relatively large overnight raid on Wednesday using tanks and infantry in the northern area of the Gaza Strip, orchestrated by the Givati Brigade, one of Israel’s five infantry units.

They killed “many” fighters and destroyed military infrastructure and antitank positions in preparation for the “next stages of combat.” The army did not mention any Israeli casualties and added that their forces exited Gaza at the end of the raid.

While there have been multiple previous small-scale army raids into Gaza, according to Al Jazeera journalist Alan Fisher, this particular invasion is unusual for the involvement of tanks, which the army has not previously used in this context.

Fisher says, “This is clearly in preparation for what the next stage of the war will be.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is still pressuring Israel to postpone its ground assault until they can ensure the security of the captives inside Gaza and wait for more U.S. military defenses to arrive.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel agreed to delay their ground invasion of Gaza to allow the U.S. to rush missile defenses to the region. The publication said the Pentagon is working to deploy 11 air defense systems in the area, including for US troops stationed in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

However, many leaders do not support Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.

During a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on the international community to take precautions to avoid an Israeli ground assault on Gaza. He said, drawing attention to the “many, many civilian casualties” it could cause during a joint Sisi also highlighted the already high death toll of “half of whom are children.”

Even French President Emmanuel Macron, who has expressed his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, said any “massive ground invasion” of Gaza would be “an error” for Israel.

On Thursday, Israel’s Ministry of Defense proposed an extension on the evacuation orders for Israelis living along the Gaza fence and northern border with Lebanon until December 31, Israeli media reported.

The Ministry also proposed that the government pay 6,000 shekels (about $1,470) per month per adult and 3,000 shekels (about $740) per child for families who can’t find a state-funded hotel room or decide to evacuate independently. As reported by Israeli authorities last week, approximately 200,000 people received evacuation orders from 105 communities near the borders of Gaza and Lebanon.

Israeli media says the proposed operation to extend the evacuation orders could cost “several billion” shekels, leaving other government ministries opposed to the declaration, saying it is premature.

As Israel prepares for their large-scale ground assault on the besieged enclave population, which will likely result in the death of several more civilians, Biden is casting doubt on the death toll in Gaza provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health without giving any evidence or alternative numbers.

However, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Omar Shakir, said the Palestinian Ministry of Health’s death toll is reliable.

“Human Rights Watch has been working in the occupied Palestinian territories for three decades. We’ve covered rounds of escalations and hostilities, and we’ve always found the numbers from the Ministry of Health to be generally reliable,” Shakir told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve been looking at satellite imagery. We’ve been looking at what’s taking place; the numbers coming out of the ministry are not beyond reason,” Shakir continued. “They’re within the range of what one would expect from air strikes of this intensity.”

Vetoed UN resolutions 

On Wednesday, the latest U.S. resolution introduced to the UN Security Council called for “humanitarian pauses to allow for full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access” in Gaza, said U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“Colleagues, the United States worked exhaustively to draft a strong and balanced text, one that meets this moment and one that we urge all council members to vote in favor [of],” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Those in favor of the resolution included the U.S., Albania, France, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the UK. Brazil and Mozambique abstained. However, Russia and China vetoed the resolution, which the UAE was also against.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya slammed the resolution for not calling for a ceasefire and accused the U.S. of trying to prevent the security council’s decisions of “any possible influence on a possible offensive by Israel on Gaza. “

“This extremely politicized document clearly has one aim: not to save civilians, but to shore up the U.S.’s political situation in the region,” Nebenzya said.

Four UN resolutions have been drafted and rejected, including a previous UN resolution drafted by Russia calling for a complete humanitarian ceasefire, which the U.S. vetoed for not underscoring Israel’s right to self-defense.

Reportedly, other non-permanent members of the UNSC are now working on a new draft resolution, which will be put forward in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, is calling on UN United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he remarked that it was necessary to “recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum” as Palestinians have been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation” on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Guterres told reporters, without naming Israel, “I am shocked by misrepresentations of some of my statement yesterday in the Security Council – as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas.”

International voices 

As Israel continues to wage war on its own occupied territory, international leaders are weighing in on the escalating violence.

Brazil’s President Lula da Silva says, “what is happening right now in the Middle East is very serious,” while criticizing the language used to describe the escalation in Gaza, saying it is not a war, but a “genocide.”

“It’s not about discussing who has a reason or who is wrong. The problem is that it’s not a war, it’s a genocide that has killed 2,000 children who have nothing to do with this war but are the victims,” she said.

On Wednesday, the king of Jordan, Abdullah II, called for the international community to pressure Israel to cease fire and end its siege, saying, “Stopping the war on Gaza is an absolute necessity, and the world must move immediately in this direction.”

“We are against any attempt by Israel to create an exodus of Palestinians or internally displaced the inhabitants of Gaza,” King Abdullah said while warning that the continued escalation “may lead to an explosion of the situation in the region.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa met with the Israeli ambassador to Japan, Gilad Cohen, to request a temporary suspension of fighting in Gaza and call for Israel to allow the delivery of more humanitarian assistance into the besieged Gaza Strip.

Similarly, the UK supports the call for a humanitarian pause for aid to enter and civilians to evacuate, the government opposes a ceasefire. Reiterating his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office says a ceasefire would “only serve to benefit Hamas.”

Humza Yousaf, First Minister of Scotland, criticized Sunak’s decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Meanwhile, in the final draft of a text calling for “humanitarian corridors and pauses,” from EU leaders to be approved at a summit in Brussels, they promise to “work closely with partners in the region to protect civilians, provide assistance and facilitate access to food, water, medical care, fuel and shelter, ensuring that such assistance is not abused by terrorist organizations.”

“The European Council expresses its gravest concern for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and calls for continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need through all necessary measures including humanitarian corridors and pauses,” it stated.

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Leila Warah is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Palestine.

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