Palestinians search a building after an Israeli air strike, in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip | Credit: Anas-Mohammed/Shutterstock
This opinion was originally published as part of the HPN initiative, which is created to share Humanitarian practitioners' and researchers' insights on the situation in Gaza
The six-week long Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip has inevitably resulted in the weaponisation of the provision of medical and humanitarian aid. This weaponisation is part and parcel of Israel's policy in Gaza. The obstruction or manipulation of aid delivery for political or military purposes breaches International Humanitarian Law and may constitute war crimes. Israel's handling of medical and humanitarian aid in Gaza raises ethical and legal concerns. The deliberate targeting of medical personnel, ambulances, healthcare infrastructure and water treatment facilities further compounds Gaza's public health challenges. Limited and conditional humanitarian aid, along with restrictions on fuel, electricity and water, has contributed to the breakdown of an already fragile healthcare system and further exacerbated pre-existing weaknesses.
The war has damaged and destroyed Gazan hospitals and healthcare services. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 137 attacks on healthcare facilities between 12 October and 14 November, with over 16 healthcare workers killed. Most hospitals have been shuttered due to the ongoing assault, lack of staff, medications, equipment and fuel, making it difficult to attend to people's medical needs. Israel has only permitted half of Gaza's daily minimum fuel requirements, which is insufficient for desalination plants, hospitals and relief vehicles. Insufficient fuel will lead to a scarcity of clean drinking water since only two-thirds of daily needs can be met at current levels. With sewage flooding in large parts of Gaza and 70% of solid waste remaining uncollected, outbreaks of illness are highly likely. Due to fuel limitations, humanitarian organisations must choose which vital services to provide, as supply levels entering Rafah daily are far below humanitarian needs.
In conflicts and crises, the weaponisation of medical and humanitarian aid not only violates the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, but also erodes the basic rights of civilians to access essential healthcare and humanitarian assistance. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently suggested that Israel's actions 'may be' in violation of articles 55, 56 and 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that obligates the protection of civilians in occupied territories. Upholding the principles of International Humanitarian Law and ensuring unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance are critical to mitigating the public health impacts of armed conflicts and humanitarian crises.
It is essential that the international community urgently moves to counter Israel's weaponisation of medical and humanitarian aid. This requires a collective commitment through concerted diplomatic efforts, legal accountability and advocacy for safeguarding civilian populations. Despite the unquestionable importance of doing so, it is also imperative to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza – this is crucial and non-negotiable. At this point, even if humanitarian and medical aid is provided, the human capacity in medical facilities has been compromised, and the existing civilian infrastructure has already been severely damaged. As humanitarian and medical assistance further dwindles and it becomes logistically impossible to deliver to alleviate suffering, only a ceasefire will put an end to this catastrophe. Moving forward, addressing the root causes of violence starting with the Israeli military occupation and apartheid is the only way to preserve lives and prevent future military escalations.