Legal Opinion: Israel Can Cut Off Water, Power to Gaza During Conflict

Document states that imposing economic sanctions would be legal, that electricity is not a basic humanitarian need.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A Palestinian youth carries a container with drinking water at Shati refugee camp in Gaza City.
A Palestinian youth carries a container with drinking water at Shati refugee camp in Gaza City.Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel is permitted to cut off water, fuel and electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip in response to hostile actions, according to a legal opinion submitted to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday, in preparation for a committee hearing scheduled for this morning.

The opinion was formulated by Prof. Avi Bell of Bar-Ilan University. This morning’s hearing, which is to deal with the influence of the 2005 Gaza disengagement on Israel’s deterrence, was scheduled to mark nine years since Israel’s withdrawal from the Strip. The hearing was initiated by the heads of the Knesset’s Land of Israel caucus – MKs Orit Strock (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yariv Levin (Likud).

The opinion states, “Imposing economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip, such as refraining from the supply of water, fuel and electricity, does not involve military power and is thus a legal measure, despite the collateral effect on the Strip’s residents.”

According to the document, “In the absence of an agreement denying this right, international law recognizes the right of any state to act this way. Indeed, it is acceptable for states to take even harsher steps, and take nonmilitary retaliatory steps that under other circumstances would be illegal, like voiding aviation agreements.

“Because Israel is not obligated to trade in fuel, electricity or anything else with the Gaza Strip, and is not obligated to preserve a policy of open borders with it, it is permitted to avoid supplying consumer items and to close its borders if it chooses to do so, even if this is imposed as a ‘punishment’ for terror activity. The only restriction is that Israel is forbidden to interfere in the supply of basic humanitarian needs, like food and medicines, by others.”

The document states that electricity is not considered a basic humanitarian need, and therefore Israel can stop supplying electricity. “Moreover, Israel is permitted to attack power stations in Gaza and thus prevent Gaza from providing its own electricity. Similarly, Israel is permitted to stop supplying water, but it must allow the supply of water by a neutral third party, if such a party seeks to do so.”

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