People assess the destruction caused by Israeli airstrikes

People assess the destruction caused by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 7, 2023.

(Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

'A Massive War Crime': Israel Announces Total Blockade of Gaza Strip

"Starving 2 million people who cannot move and are under a land siege and naval blockade is genocide."

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced a "complete siege" of the Gaza Strip on Monday, pledging to block food and fuel from entering the occupied enclave and cut off the territory's electricity—steps that international law experts and other observers decried as a clear war crime that will devastate civilians.

"There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed," said Gallant.

Using rhetoric that one commentator called "blatantly genocidal," Gallant added that "we are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly."

Israel has been imposing a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip for nearly two decades, impoverishing much of the crowded enclave's population and denying millions sufficient access to clean water and other necessities. Children, who make up roughly half of Gaza's population, have been disproportionately affected.

An intensification of the blockade against Gaza—often described as the world's largest open-air prison—would be both unlawful and catastrophic, analysts warned.

"Starving 2 million people who cannot move and are under a land siege and naval blockade is genocide," Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto wrote on social media. "This is a war crime."

Tom Dannenbaum, a legal scholar and associate professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, agreed with that assessment, pointing to International Criminal Court statutes.

"Gallant is ordering a massive war crime (ICC 8(2)(b)(xxv)) and very likely a crime against humanity (ICC 7(1)(b), 7(2)(b) [extermination] / 7(1)(k) [inhumane acts])," Dannenbaum wrote. "Presence of combatants within a civilian population does not affect its civilian character (AP I 50(3)). ICC has jurisdiction."

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, called Gallant's comments "abhorrent" and said that "depriving the population in an occupied territory of food and electricity is collective punishment, which is a war crime, as is using starvation as a weapon of war."

"The International Criminal Court should take note of this call to commit a war crime," said Shakir.

The announcement of a total blockade on Gaza comes as Israel is preparing for a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory and asking the U.S. to ramp up military support in the wake of Hamas' deadly attack on Saturday, which killed more than 700 people.

Israel has since launched a wave of airstrikes in Gaza, killing more than 500 people and injuring thousands. Dozens of Palestinians were reportedly killed Monday by an Israeli attack on Gaza's largest refugee camp.

"The intense bombardment has so far displaced more than 120,000 people in the besieged Palestinian enclave," Al Jazeera reported.

An analysis published earlier this year by the human rights group Euro-Med Monitor estimated that Israel's 16-year blockade "has impoverished more than 61% of Gaza's total population" and "left nearly 53% of the population facing food insecurity."

In a statement on Monday, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that Israeli officials "who now call for killing, destroying, crushing, smashing, and even starving the residents of the Gaza Strip" in the wake of Hamas' attack "forget that this is already Israeli policy."

"At this moment, Israel is attacking in the Gaza Strip, when it is clear that once again many of the victims are civilians—including women, children, and the elderly," the group added. "Deliberate harm to civilians is always wrong and prohibited. There can be no justification for such crimes, not when they are committed as part of a struggle for freedom and liberation from oppression, and not when they are justified as a fight against terrorism."

This story has been updated to include a statement from Human Rights Watch.

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