Is Israel legally and ethically justified in suspending supplies of electricity and water to Gaza in response to the Hamas terrorist organizations' slaughter of innocent civilians on Saturday?
Energy Minister Israel Katz vowed Thursday that Israel would not allow basic resources or humanitarian aid into Gaza until Hamas released the people it kidnapped during its surprise weekend onslaught.
"Humanitarian aid to Gaza?" Katz tweeted. "No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home.
"Humanitarianism for humanitarianism," he continued. "And no one can preach morality to us."
Katz issued this statement a day following the World Health Organization's appeal to end the conflict and establish a humanitarian corridor from Egypt to the Gaza Strip to facilitate the delivery of crucial medical supplies. The organization emphasized that Gaza's hospitals and healthcare infrastructure are on the brink of collapse, just as numerous injured Gazans urgently require medical attention.
According to the local Health Ministry, hundreds of Gazans have been injured in Israeli air strikes against Hamas.
"In the Gaza Strip, hospitals are running on backup generators with fuel likely to run out in the coming days," WHO said. "They have exhausted the supplies WHO pre-positioned before the escalation. The life-saving health response depends on getting new supplies and fuel to health care facilities as fast as possible."
Hamas may divert power
However, Israel contended that if it allowed fuel and power into Gaza, Hamas might divert these resources for use in the conflict against Israel. They also maintained that the lack of electricity in Gaza was because only affluent members of Hamas had access to fuel and generators in their residences and not because of Israel's decision.
According to Dr. Elai Rettig of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a researcher at the at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, Israel supplies around 50% of Gaza's energy. Still, the electricity supply in Gaza is not suitable during peace times.
Before the Hamas attack, the typical Gaza resident had only access to approximately four hours of uninterrupted electricity daily. This situation could be primarily attributed to the damage that Gaza's electrical infrastructure sustained during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Despite receiving substantial foreign assistance, Hamas did not undertake the necessary repairs to restore the grid.
As a result, Gaza residents found independent solutions: They put small, diesel-powered generators in their houses or installed solar panels on their rooftops, Rettig explained. These solar panels provide about 25% of energy during the day.
"All of this means that the effect of cutting off the energy supply to Gaza is rather limited," Rettig said.
When it comes to diesel, this does come through Israel. The gas is refined in Haifa and brought to Gaza. In addition, sometimes Hamas buys more expensive diesel from Egypt.
Israel said that both diesel trucks from Egypt and Israel would not enter the strip. Therefore, the diesel will eventually run out.
"Hamas claimed that the diesel had already run out in its powerplant. This is unlikely because they should have already had enough diesel to last at least a week or two," Rettig contended. "If there is no diesel, Hamas took it all."
He said the terrorists may have robbed the diesel for use in their underground headquarters and bunkers so that they could continue to operate.
However, he noted that this electricity shortage could have a separate consequence: its impact on the water supply and water sewage treatment.
"Without constant electricity, the water can't flow in the pipelines," Rettig said. "If in a week or two weeks, most of the electricity in Gaza will shut down, the water supply will shut down, creating a major shortage."
Israel has also threatened to cease supplying water to Gaza. Still, Israeli water is not an issue, added Eyal Pinko of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
"Israel supplies only 10% of water to Gaza. So, even if we stop our share, they will still have water," he contended.
So, is the simple act of cutting off electricity and water against international law?
While Rettig said that international law during the war was never straightforward, he sensed that "Israel is meeting the basic criteria."
"We are not bombing the power plants, which would be collective punishment," Rettig said. "We are not taking away the option for them to generate electricity. Israel is temporarily cutting off Gaza's share [of electricity] for tactical reasons - and using the time to hinder its enemy's ability to monitor and attack Israeli forces."
He said, "As long as Israel can say, and so far Israel can say, that it is taking action for a limited time frame, then it is not a war crime."
Moreover, the move may be essential for bringing the conflict to a close sooner rather than later and with fewer casualties, according to Pink.
He said there would be two ways to end this war: "choking them with a siege or putting boots on the ground in operation."
Rettig agreed. However, he added that if the blockade continues for more than a week or two and there is no electricity or diesel to operate the Gaza power plant, the situation may be considered differently.
"Israel would have to allow the plant to operate or water trucks to go inside, or it would constitute collective punishment, which would be illegal," he said.
The other thing that would be illegal is revenge.
"I lost a lot of students and colleagues who were murdered, and it is hard not to feel that you want revenge," Rettig admitted. "But you always have to remember there are 2 million people in Gaza" - and most of them are not terrorists.
"Using tactical means to pressure Hamas to release Israeli hostages is ethical and justified," Rettig concluded. "But if it’s just for the sake of taking vengeance, that is not something international law can justify."