Water and Genocide in Gaza: Deprivation and Suffering

Domestic Water use in Israel vs Gaza

Asian Green News did a month-long investigation into the story of Water Genocide in Gaza, and all indications are that the suffering is so massive that this must be included at the International Court of Justice. Civilians in Gaza are dying due to dehydration, water-contamination, poor-hygiene, lack of electrical power and fuel, and reduction to medieval style living standards.

Genocide by water-deprivation is a crime against humanity because it undermines human survival and undercuts economic functioning:

The right to water has been recognized as being derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, and therefore implicitly contained in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other instruments. The right to water includes availability of sufficient water for personal and domestic uses, physical access within or in the immediate vicinity of each household, affordibility, and adequate quality of water. States must prioritize, as part of their immediate obligations, access for everyone to the minimum essential amount of water that is sufficient and safe for personal and domestic uses to prevent disease. States have to adopt the necessary measures directed towards the full realization of the right to water, including by taking positive measures to assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right.” — Amnesty International

Huge Differential in Drinking Water Provision

However differential access to water has always been the policy of the Israeli government for complete control and consolidation of all water resources, water-related infrastructure, and power within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. It has been emplaced by special military orders, such as Military Order 158, which empowers the IDF to inspect for proper well installation and/or infrastructure permits, otherwise those may be shut down or removed. It has allowed the IDF to create ‘detention zones’ for Palestinian farmers living in Area C of the West Bank, to limit their ability to draw water. In Gaza, according to the Gaza water utility chief executive, Monther Shoblaq, this has made what should have only taken two years for a large-scale desalination plant installation take seven years with no completion date in sight due to all the delays for allowing any “dual-use” items to cross the border. Pipe-fittings, cement, well-pipe, pumps, large equipment and tools, construction materials are all classified as “dual-use” by Israel National Security, meaning they can be used by Hamas for terrorism.

According to Issam al-Khatib, an expert from the Institute of Environmental and Water Studies at Birzeit University, the deprivation is creating regional risks never before seen. His article “Water and Sewage systems in Gaza in the Shadow of Brutal war” is dated December 29, 2023, yet mostly things have gotten worse since then.

Water delivery into Gaza has always been carefully rationed at a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio in allotment ratio for Israeli to Palestinian. Issam notes that the need inside Gaza, with its population in 2023 of 2.2 million people (capita) should be at least 250,000 cubic meters for domestic use such as drinking and hygiene. At 264 gallons per cubic meter that works out to a minimum of 66 million gallons per day, which provides 30 gallons per day person:

(250,000 m^3/d)(264gal/m^3)=66,000,000gallons/day=66mgd
(66,000,000 gallons/day)/(2,200,000 million cap)= 30 gallons per day per person

This would match the bare minimum standard from international authorities such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. For instance, the World Health Organization daily minimum is set at 100Liters per day capita, which translates to about 26 gallons per day per person. For perspective, in the United States, the daily campground design standard is 100gallons per day capita, and inside Israel, the average use is 300L per day capita which meets the 3:1 ratio at least.

Domestic Water use in Israel vs Gaza

Before Oct 7th, Israel used four times as much water; after Oct 7th, Israel uses 80 times as much water as a Gaza resident survives on less than 1 gallon per day (Chart by AGN)

However under wartime conditions, that once bare minimal requirement is no longer met whatsoever. Today, when the Gazans line up for drinking water, carrying their plastic containers and buckets, they can carry home maybe at most 5 gallons per person, water that must last all day. But if they are sharing the water with other family members who did not have the time or energy to stand in line for hours, it easily reduces to 1 gallon per person per day, or barely 3 Liters per day capita.

This super low figure has been documented by various authorities including the United Nations which has an “emergency” minimum recommendation of 15 Liters per day capita; meaning the average resident in Gaza is still receiving far less than the barest minimal amount of safe drinking water:

1 L = 0.264 gallon (US); 3 L = 0.79 gallon (just above 3/4 gallons); 15 Liters = 4 gallons

The daily emergency minimal amount recommended by the United Nations works out to 4 gallons, while each Gazan only receives about 1 gallon, 25 percent of the recommended. Whereas the most conservationist minded Israeli citizen is still using about 40 gallons per day capita, meaning a 10:1 ratio in drinking water provision difference.

Maximal Deprivation Matched by Power Cutoffs

In the aftermath, Israel not only attacked and occupied Water Treatment Plants and Wastewater Treatment Plants but also cut off all electrical supplies going into Gaza. Needless to say, this dishabilitated all plants requiring electricity to operate, although it did leave solar arrays relatively intact, even though due to the limitations on imports, there are few solar battery storage or solar-operated generators. Also with the complete shutdown of the northern border crossing at Erez, and extremely constricted crossings allowed from the South, fuel supplies have been very limited. Even in the best of times, the fuel storage within Gaza lasted for only a month.

According to Rosa Taha, researcher at the Institute of Palestine Studies, even before the October 7th attacks by Hamas which instigated disproportionate counter-attacks, there was a differential in electricity unmet needs of 50%. Consider for a moment that the Gazans, always having had to make do with less, have actually learned to conserve in their use of all critical resources, so what they consider as unmet need would be far greater in the West. Before October 7th, the total stated need was 450-500 Megawatts per day. How this compares with the West can be computed based on a rough allotment per Gazan, based on positing that the fifty percent Gaza Strip actually receives amounts to only 250 MW per day:

(250MW/2,200,000 cap)=(0.000114MW/cap)(1000KW/MW)= (0.114 KW/person)(1000W/KW)= 114 Watt/person

However according to Gaza Water utility, electricity is provided less than eight hours a day (even before October 7th), sometimes only for four hours. So one can imagine that one might be able to operate a few lights and a small appliance at the most.

In “Cutting Electricity to Gaza: One of Israel’s Genocidal Tools” several major sources of energy are described all of which have suffered cutbacks. First, the local liquid-fuel and natural-gas based power plant, whose capacity is limited due to the few fuel trucks allowed to cross. Second, the Gaza Strip (an area about 7 miles wide by 20 miles length) is supplied 120MW daily from Israel through arrangement with the Palestinian Authority paid for by taxes. In 2017, the amount was reduced to 70MW per day. Third, Egypt has powerlines to Rafah that supplies up to 20MW per day, but the power grid suffers from many breakdowns and interruptions.

The entire electricity and energy sector in Gaza is tenuous due to the lack of complete autonomy. Israel treats it as an occupied territory including making administration multi-layered and complex and conditioned upon contemporary relationships. This is due to the legality of The Paris Protocol signed in 1994, and renewed in 2012, which allows Israel sole customs responsibility for all incoming goods, since Israel controls the borders, and all other ports of entry. Under the agreement, Israel collects import and value-added taxes, but also operates the national banks, allowing it to transfer goods and services at-will, and also based on the revenues received, for instance, from Palestinian taxes owing.

This creates a financial and product differential, for instance, Israel could increase taxes, withhold services, condition it for political pressure, or even to exact punishment, as has happened over the past six months with shutoffs in water, electricity, fuel, and many other consumer goods upon which the Palestinians and Gazans depend. Furthermore the Israelis have added layers of administrative complexity such as favoring dealing with the Palestinian Water Authority (Fatah) directly over Hamas, which can create intra-OPT friction. The Palestinian Authority, in turn, may impose its own conditional provision of services and value-added taxation upon Gaza for water from the Mountain Aquifer (although both the Coastal, and Mountain Aquifer are controlled by Mekorot, the Israeli state-owned water company.)

The result is that Gaza Strip has lived in a time-capsule of forever-delays in much needed type of repairs particularly after infrastructure is damaged or bombed deliberately. This has been the case with its fuel-based powerplant, with its on-hold larger desalination plant, and now with its water and wastewater treatment plants, as well as many private water tanks. When the electricity is cutoff water can be neither treated nor delivered; the associated water infrastructure is neglected, and especially if many delivery links are cut.

Already according to the Gaza Water Utility, and the United Nations, the available water supply from the Coastal Aquifer is almost irreparably polluted from years of overpumping, saltwater intrusion, and contaminants entering the water table due to the urban density. The nitrates level, for instance, can be as high as 5,000ppm, where the acceptable is already 50ppm. In the United States, the maximum contaminant limit for nitrates is 10ppm, since nitrates enter the system from farming, fertilizer, septic systems, and animal matter. There is also heavy metals, high sodium levels, and bacteria. Currently nothing is being treated, so the residents of Gaza are suffering many types of stomach-related illness.

Gaza Left Like a Butcher’s Yard

The sanitation situation is made many times worse because of the lack of treatment available for human wastes, the impassable roads, the ongoing bombing and shelling campaigns, and the number of dead left in random mass graves or buried amid the rubble.

The storm-drainage system is broken and the stormwater (which may have been collected with sewage) can bubble up in pockets and pools unexpectedly. The roads are full of danger and especially for children, or donkeys, there can be sinkholes or sand-piping formations. Nothing can be repaired without a full re-opening of the borders and a humanitarian ceasefire, however, as of this date, the United States Congress (House) has approved an aid package for Israel of $26 billion dollars. Aid for Gaza is provided but it is miniscule and will be handed over to the State of Israel to disburse as it sees fit. Mostly it will encourage the Israelis to continue, if not intensify, its ethnic-cleansing operations in Gaza and the West Bank.

Without adequate aid flowing in and aid workers, mostly the Gazans are left to fend for themselves in setting up make-shift sanitation systems and landfills. With the oppressive Zionist regime even trying to cut off communications with the outside world, it is by a miracle of God that these people have not given up all hope. But to encourage them to not want to live, of course the Zionist regime is broadcasting all kinds of disdainful mockery and propaganda, stoking the flames of blind putrid hate by its captive brainwashed citizens, while continuing to send in drones which can be heard buzzing around overhead all day-long. Clearly, since the ICJ hearings, nothing has changed; Israel will not comply.

As of April 2024, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), all five of the wastewater treatment plants are still non-operational, although one of them is partially working. According to Shaddad Attili, a former head of the Palestinian Water Authority, the raw sewage is creating a threat to the people, the aquifer, and the sea, since an estimated 130,000 cubic meters (34.3MGD) is being released without treatment. However since the IDF has forced the Palestinians inside Gaza south towards Rafah, a huge ecological toll is taking placed in this southern quarter from 1.7 million people being crammed into the newly overcrowded border town.

Likely released sewage is being left on the streets, with smells detectable throughout the surroundings, and insects, and seeping into the ocean. In fact, according to Nada Majdalani, director at EcoPeace Middle East, it does not matter whether or not Israel has the latest desalination plants and can provide for all of its own citizens, because one day it will still have to pay for its ignorance of the natural collective. And that may be coming true even if Israel is very proud of its five state-of-the-art desalination plants or 120 wastewater treatment plants capable of grey water-recycling.

According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in “Impact of Israeli Closure and Blockade on the Basic Services in the Gaza Strip”:

The power shortage crisis and Israel’s ban on fuel entry have prompted many municipalities in the Gaza Strip to pump untreated sewage into the sea, causing water pollution. In 2021, a test carried out by the Water and Environmental Quality Authority showed that 75% of seawater along Gaza’s coastline, which extends to about 40km [24miles], is polluted.

Imagine that pods of waste may drift northwards towards Ashkelon and their water purification intakes; or other pristine sun-bathing spots around Ashdod, Israel. Or worse that the untreated waste pods might head towards the gas and oil platforms, or interfere with fishing vessels and ocean liners. It may only be a chance occurrence, yet what comes around tends to also go around, and this is not even considering the harm to the coastal ecology. Certainly it cannot be the fault of the Palestinians, who are in a daily fight for survival.

Sewage and untreated wastes will also leach into the Coastal Aquifer and affect farmlands, spreading contagious diseases and waterborne illnesses. Those will manifest among the population and can travel across borders in many different ways. The worse is the unseen effects of continued bloody rampages by the IDF; their lives and their loved ones will be spiritually blinded and living in state of mass-psychosis for decades to come, driven by the paranoid and psychopathy of the Israeli leaders today with their museums of venerated gangsters, who promoted dogma and intolerance.

Palestinians and Voices for Peace are Calling for Sanity

There is not a moment to waste in this existential world crisis which is entirely man-made. The United States has cornered itself either through compromisable bribes, sex-scandals, corruption charges, or blood-oaths into becoming willing partners-in-crime with today’s most tyrannical bloodthirsty world-leaders. It will issue a few token reprimands to Ukraine’s Zelensky or Israel’s Netanyahu, then craft an arms deal package of $61 billion and $26 billion dollars respectively for each country. The U.S. is hoping to buy Taiwan for a pittance through an $8 billion dollar aid package. The weapons of war are not stowed away for rainy days but being used right now to kill more Russians, Palestinians, and into the foreseeable future, Chinese.

This is not a static situation but one calling for resolve and action. In April, more and more college campuses, civic leaders, and students are demanding an end to the genocide in Gaza, and a genuine effort at political resolution. UNOCHA’s April 2024 report shows that very little has changed. There are only (6) functioning hospitals, with only one hospital in Khan Younis able to perform surgeries, but limited to about 20 per day, for the entire Gaza population. Many children are malnourished, and permanently scarred or enduring physiological damage from being displaced. Adults are unable to obtain medications and at least 233 mosques have been destroyed. 70% of buildings are damaged or destroyed, and 57% of shelters offer inadequate protection from the elements. Most children have not gone to school for months, and they are even using textbooks as tinder for cooking.

The current regime wants to cover everything up, proceed with their killing machine, while using their media machine to blame it all on “Hamas.” The IDF coldly shoots or bombs down ambulence drivers, aid workers, schools, hospitals, health facilities, and storage tanks. Today, Israel even uses the IDF to monitor rooftop rainwater collection systems, claiming that the water in those cisterns belong to Mekorot, however, they are just as content to destroy the cisterns, just to get a hard-on while watching the Palestinian family suffer. They are also using the legal and court industrial complex to arrest and detain anyone who can stand in their way, including academics, doctors, farmers, students, scholars, lawyers, activists, journalists, actresses, etc.

Amnesty International’s 2017 report, “The Occupation of Water,” documents case after case of Palestinian farmers, businesses, villages, and communities in the West Bank being systematically deprived of economic sustenance through water-deprivation, water-theft, and violence. There is no recourse to the law if the military defends and arms the criminals randomly attacking wife, children, grandfather, grandmother, Bedouins who have planted orange groves, citrus trees, tended the olive trees, and cared for their fields for generations. These resources—land, water, trees, farms, crops, children, animals, streams, roads, minerals, buildings, homes—all once belonged to the Palestinians.

50 years on, it is time for the Israeli authorities to put an end to policies and practices which discriminate against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to address their desperate need for water security. The Israeli authorities must lift the restrictions currently in place which deny millions of Palestinians access to sufficient water to meet their personal and domestic needs as well as to enjoy their rights to water, food, health, work and an adequate standard of living.” — Amnesty International

The right to water and sanitation is a fundamental human right enshrined in international conventions. As Israel is a signatory to these conventions, it is obliged to uphold this right in all the territories it controls.” — B’Tselem

Al Mezan reiterates its call on the international community to uphold its moral and legal obligations toward the Palestinian people by urging Israel to immediately, fully, and unconditionally lift its closure and blockade and end all associated unlawful restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip.” — Mezan Center

At this time involvement in activism often feels like one is spinning wheels in the mud, especially when one is surrounded by extreme normalcy bias, like inside the Beltway; or reality denialism, so promoted by corporate media with their chosen amplification of the news that matters for today. However one must not give up. There are many ways to become involved without feeding the trolls. You can be an ambassador for peace in the Middle East just by praying and sharing your vision of sanity and voicing your support for promoting international human rights.

Chart developed and article prepared by Christine Kroll, P.E.