Gaza in the dark after Israel bombs power lines

Landscape view of a massive fireball over a city skyline at night

Israeli warplanes hit the Gaza Strip early 17 May.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Human rights groups are calling for an urgent investigation by the International Criminal Court as Israel’s merciless pounding of Gaza enters its second week.

More than 200 Palestinians in the Strip have been killed since last Monday, including 60 children and 34 women, according to Al Mezan, a human rights group based in the territory.

Three of the women were pregnant when they were killed, according to the UN’s human rights office.

The fatality count is expected to rise as people remain under the rubble and unaccounted for two days after heavy airstrikes on residential areas of Gaza City overnight Saturday.

Nearly 1,000 others have been injured and some 58,000 people have been displaced within Gaza after Israel destroyed around 100 residential buildings over the past week.

The buildings destroyed in Israeli strikes include six towers, “three of which were completely destroyed,” Al Mezan said.

Displaced persons are seeking shelter at dozens of schools run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

As Al Mezan notes, Israel targeted UNRWA schools used as shelters in previous military offensives in Gaza, killing civilians displaced from their homes.

Al Mezan said that UNRWA had not officially opened their schools as shelters and that displaced persons are living “in classrooms without mattresses or blankets and without the provision of essential services, such as sufficient drinking water, food and adequate toilets.”

The rights group added that “most live on what little food they have brought with them, or on food given by neighboring residents or provided by charitable associations and popular committees for refugees.”

Concern is mounting over rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions in densely populated Gaza, where only one percent of the population has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and infection rates are high.

“Since it is difficult for forcibly displaced people to uphold preventive safety measures,” Al Mezan stated, “those in shelters are threatened by a health and humanitarian disaster, which in turn threatens society in general with further coronavirus outbreaks.”

Several human rights groups have demanded that Israeli government and military bodies “reverse the decision to close Gaza’s crossings [and] allow movement of people and passage of aid,” Gisha, a legal center based in Israel, stated.

Palestinians put out a fire at a mattress factory following an Israeli airstrike east of Jabaliya in northern Gaza on 17 May.

Ashraf Amra APA images

The humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza was already dire with a severe land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel beginning in 2007 and multiple massive military offensives since then.

As a direct result of Israel’s siege and attacks, Gaza has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and more than half of its population of two million, two-thirds of whom are refugees, live in poverty.

Some Palestinians who lost their homes in Israel’s 2014 attack had yet to rebuild when the new one began. Israeli restrictions on building materials have made rebuilding a very difficult ordeal.

After the 2014 offensive, Palestinians said that a ceasefire wasn’t enough and demanded that the blockade on Gaza be lifted and for an end to Israel’s impunity.

While the devastating siege remains in place, the International Criminal Court announced earlier this year that it had opened an investigation into war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Israel’s 2014 attacks a primary focus of the probe.

“Crimes against humanity”

Palestinians in Gaza say that the current trauma that Israel is inflicting is even worse than those that came before.

Amnesty International said that Israel’s targeting of residential buildings “may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

The human rights group said that it had investigated four deadly attacks on residential homes without warning that should be urgently investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Two of those incidents occurred during heavy bombardment in Gaza City early Sunday, destroying residential buildings belonging to the Abu al-Ouf and al-Qawlaq families.

Forty-three Palestinians, including 18 children and 12 women, were killed during that attack. The victims included multiple generations of the same family, 21 of whom were killed, ranging from 6 months to 90 years old.

Gaza’s labor ministry building was destroyed during the same attack, during which Israeli missiles blasted a crater into the main road leading to al-Shifa hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza.

The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq stated that “the targeted destruction of the main artery” to the hospital impacts its functionality and “ability to provide critical medical services.”

“As such, the targeting of the connecting road infrastructure to the hospital should be considered as tantamount to the targeting of the hospital itself, amounting to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,“ the rights group said.

Al-Haq called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the targeting of the road and “Israel’s military attacks on critical civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”

Palestinians inspect the health ministry headquarters in Gaza City after it was targeted in an Israeli airstrike on 17 May.

Naaman Omar APA images

Gaza’s health ministry said that its headquarters were targeted in Israeli bombing, resulting in the injury of medical personnel, some of them critically.

It also said that it disrupted its provision of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, as well as other health services.

“This targeting of medical institutions is a war crime,” the ministry stated.

The World Health Organization said on Monday that 19 health facilities have been damaged in Gaza, including a primary health care clinic that has stopped functioning.

Israeli strikes have significantly damaged governmental buildings, schools, mosques, banks and have “led to the large-scale destruction of power and water networks, as well as thousands of square meters of vital paved roads,” Al Mezan stated.

Israel launched an intensive attack along a main coastal road in western Gaza City early Monday resulting in the destruction of the street and nearby arteries.

As the merciless brutality of Israel’s campaign in Gaza becomes more clear with each family massacred in their homes, so does the complicity of its principal ally, the United States.

Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanked his American counterpart Antony Blinken after the US blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement on Israel’s assault on Gaza for the third time on Monday.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, meanwhile expressed his appreciation to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for their blessing of the slaughter in Gaza.

Netanyahu also doubled down on Israel’s targeting of a Gaza City high-rise building that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and the AP news agency, stating that it was “a perfectly legitimate target.”

A crowd of people stand under an excavation machine on an urban street

Palestinians search for victims in the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood on 16 May.

Hatem Rawagh APA images

Blinken, the US secretary of state, said on Monday that he hadn’t seen evidence supporting Israel’s claim that Hamas operated in the targeted building that was bombed on Saturday.

In any case, the presence of an office used by Hamas personnel would not render a civilian building a legitimate military target under any reasonable interpretation of international law.

The human rights group Al Mezan warned on Sunday that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating as electricity networks have been damaged in Israeli attacks, with nearly a million residents completely without power.

Israel closed Gaza’s sole commercial crossing, preventing fuel from being imported to the Strip’s sole power plant which is expected to stop operating “in the coming hours,” Al Mezan said.

Al-Haq, another Palestinian human rights group, called for immediate international intervention to ensure electricity supply to Gaza.

It said that a shutdown of the power plant “will lead to a serious and detrimental overburdening on the electricity sector, with the potential, imminent and inevitable collapse of vital sectors in Gaza, including the health, water, environment, sanitation and public services sector.”

Al Mezan said that power outages prevent vulnerable people from using elevators and “fleeing buildings under attack.”

They also cut off Palestinians in Gaza from their last connection to the outside world and their ability to communicate with one another about their relative safety or lack thereof.

Al Mezan said that the damage of basic infrastructure like electricity networks is part of Israel’s “policy of collective punishment” on Gaza’s civilian population.

US-Israel arms deal

It was revealed on Sunday that the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons made by Chicago-based Boeing to Israel.

Congress was notified of the proposed sale a week before Israel began its current bombing campaign.

Media reported on Monday that the US House Foreign Affairs Committee was going to send a letter to President Joe Biden calling for a delay of the weapons sale.
If the sale is challenged, it would mark a dramatic shift away from reflexive support for Israel.

Criticism of Israel’s conduct has sparked apparent worry at the Israel lobby giant AIPAC, which may find its tight grip over US foreign policy slipping.

Not long before the current crisis, three-quarters of the House of Representatives signed a letter rejecting conditions on the $3.8 billion in military assistance the US provides to Israel each year.

A new US congressional bill receiving far less support in the House would require the government to certify whether Israel is breaking the prohibition on using US funds to violate human rights.

The proposed legislation would also prohibit US funds from aiding Israel’s crimes of military detention and the abuse and torture of detained Palestinian children, among other crimes.

Champions of Palestinian rights insist on ending US aid to Israel and for the immediate imposition of an arms embargo.

The EU has also come under fire for its complicity in enabling Israel’s violence.
Ten people in Israel have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza since Monday. Two of those killed include a girl and her father who lived in a village not recognized by the state and didn’t have access to a bomb shelter.

Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel have called for a general strike on Tuesday.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.