By cutting off water and other essential supplies, Israel is subjecting Gaza’s whole population to collective punishment.
Collective punishment is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel hastened to commit that crime following the Hamas-led offensive on 7 October.
Eliciting barely a mumble from powerful governments and institutions, the Israeli government warned a few days later that “no one can preach morality to us.”
Israel Katz, the state’s energy minister, declared that “no electrical switch will be turned on, no water pump will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home.”
The effects of Israel’s cruelty are painfully evident.
“Queuing to get fresh water has become a daily ordeal,” said Karam, one of almost 1.7 million people in Gaza who have been uprooted.
Karam’s family evacuated their home in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City. They did so after Israel instructed everyone living in northern Gaza (including Gaza City) to move southwards.
The family has taken shelter in Maghazi refugee camp, central Gaza. They are living in a two story building, with about 50 people, including 10 children.
In Karam’s new neighborhood, a truck carrying water visits twice a week at most. “At these times, we fill buckets and containers with water, regardless of whether it is clean. We give priority to kids, women, the elderly and people with diseases.”
For several days people in Maghazi had to use water that was clearly unhealthy “out of sheer desperation,” Karam added.
The city of Deir al-Balah is hosting in great numbers people who have fled northern Gaza. It does not have the capacity to meet people’s needs.
The problems arising from the lack of basic necessities has been exacerbated by how Israel has caused immense damage to Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including its water infrastructure.
Ezzat is among those who have moved from Gaza City to stay with relatives in Deir al-Balah.
“There was so little water that using the bathroom became a very difficult task,” he said. “We had to carry water, if we could find some, in a bucket and use it sparingly. We deliberately limit our bathroom visits.”
Maintaining good hygiene is simply impossible. “We only bathe the children, using minimal amounts of water,” Ezzat added.
After leaving their home, Ezzat and his family return to Gaza City. They needed to visit al-Quds hospital, which has subsequently come under direct Israeli attack and been forced to cease operations.
The scene awaiting Ezzat at the hospital was extremely distressing.
“Access to clean water was a rarity, and basic hygiene seemed like a distant memory,” he said. “Hundreds of people were crowded into confined spaces, sharing the same bathrooms.”
I have seen water pumps that were directly destroyed in Israeli attacks.
Previously, Gaza’s residents had installed filters in the water pumps. They removed many impurities from the water.
Although the water was not suitable for drinking, it could be used for bathing, washing dishes and performing ablutions before prayers.
With the filters no longer operational and pumps either destroyed or barely functioning, the water used in people’s homes and places where they are sheltering is often contaminated. The effects of using dirty water are visible.
My skin has become inflamed, particularly on parts of the body where I have washed.
The 50 other people with whom I am now living have experienced similar effects. The inflammations are similar – though not identical to – mosquito bites.
Washing our hair with contaminated water has led to intense itching, especially on the scalp and hands.
The health problems within my family have worsened.
My mother has experienced stomach cramps. My 13-year-old brother has an intestinal infection, which is very painful.
Seeking medical assistance has become an insurmountable challenge, given that hospitals are overwhelmed caring for the victims of Israel’s bombing.
We have tried to contact a nearby doctor but that proved futile. Calling doctors is now very difficult due to Israel’s attacks on communications firms and internet providers.
The situation in Gaza is dire on multiple fronts. We are doing our best to protect our health under terrible circumstances.
Aseel Mousa is a journalist based in Gaza.