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Making Gaza Unlivable

Economic Dimensions of the War on the Gaza Strip According to International Humanitarian Law

Making Gaza Unlivable

“Gaza War Economy Brief #1,” October 18, 2023

Palestine Economic Research Institute MAS

The ongoing Israeli military aggression on Gaza is on course to reach its ultimate strategic outcome: making the Gaza Strip economically, socially, and materially unlivable. Such a result has been asserted by officials and politicians. Yoav Gallant, the Israeli war minister, announced on October 11, “[the military] will annihilate everything,” and Giora Eiland, a former National Security Advisor stated, “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.” Not only are these two statements a clear indication of the destructive and dangerous military and political goals Israel may yet achieve through its aggression against Gaza, they have also foreshadowed the collective punishment measures inflicted by the military in a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

With economic and social annihilation in reach, the monitoring of economic war crimes and human rights violations – such as collective punishment, the destruction of buildings and civilian facilities, cutting access to public utilities (water and electricity), and mass displacement and unemployment of civilians – is critical in order to hold all perpetrating parties responsible in the post-war period. It provides an evidence-based case to demand the return of all forcibly displaced residents, reconstruction, and the restoration of an economy that has been “de-commissioned” for the foreseeable future. Documenting Israel’s economic crimes is important to demand compensation for both direct and indirect economic damages that have resulted from the destruction of buildings and physical infrastructure, the forcible population displacement, and the spread of unemployment. Indeed, the aggressor’s responsibility for compensation is based specifically on Article 3 of the 1907 Hague Convention that requires a belligerent party to pay compensation and be responsible for all acts committed by persons forming parts of its armed forces.

The evidence of violations documented below is especially timely, given that the International Court of Justice announced on October 24, 2023, its decision to hold public hearings with respect to the Legal Consequences Arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The Hague Convention of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 are the two key documents that define international humanitarian law and provide some of the necessary tools for the International Criminal Court to help carry out its work. While the articles of the Geneva Convention are concerned with the protection of civilians in times of war, the 1907 Hague Convention regulates “the laws and customs of war on land.”

Since Israel’s declaration of war on the Gaza Strip, Israel has violated Articles 22, 25, and 50 of the Hague Convention which limit the use of force, the bombardment of cities and homes, and the infliction of collective punishment on a population, respectively. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented Israel’s use of white phosphorus in its military operations in Gaza. Israel launched massive airstrikes on densely populated neighborhoods, stressing that the focus of its military bombing is “on destruction, not precision.”* Israeli airstrikes have reportedly killed, as of October 22, 2023, more than 5,087 Palestinians, of whom 2,055 are children, and injured approximately 15,275. The bodies of over 1,000 additional people killed have yet to be extracted from the rubble. The Ministry of Health has documented 56 attacks on health facilities. In addition to destroying housing units, Israel has also bombed education facilities, including UNRWA schools, which were used as emergency shelters for the internally displaced, and university buildings, mosques, and churches, as well as industrial facilities. The use of extraordinary force to bomb homes, civilian buildings, infrastructure, and industrial facilities is a form of collective punishment that is directed toward obliterating the fabric of life in Gaza, largely eliminating the underpinnings of any social and economic recovery.

Israel has furthermore violated Articles 23, 50, 55, and 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention through a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, cutting off water, electricity, and access to fuel, food, and medicine. This has resulted in food shortages, a complete collapse of Gaza’s health care system (in light of limited electricity and fuel), put the only power stations in Gaza out of commission, and caused a state of collective thirst as the desalination plants have stopped operating. Israel has also violated Article 52 of the Convention which stipulates that an occupying power is prohibited from creating unemployment by paralyzing all economic activity across productive sectors and services, “transferring” civilians from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip, and bombing industrial facilities and infrastructure. It has not only exacerbated the persistently high rates of unemployment and poverty but also targeted infrastructure and economic establishments, which is likely to prevent citizens from returning to the labor market post-war.

Discounting the destruction that will ensue from further military measures, Israel’s ongoing violation of the laws of war concerning economic infrastructure leave little horizon that the Gaza Strip will “recover” and become livable again – now or in the near future.

* James Rothwell, Israel abandons precision bombing in favor of ‘damage and destruction,’ The Telegraph, October 11, 2023.

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