Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report explaining that the Israeli fuel embargo of Gaza will cause a near-total blackout of communications in Gaza. The group warned that the isolation could be used to cover up atrocities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk said there is a need to investigate “extremely serious allegations of multiple and profound breaches” of humanitarian law in Gaza.
After a Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7, Israel has imposed a complete siege of Gaza. Tel Aviv has allowed a small amount of aid to enter the enclave, but shortages have caused hospitals and other critical facilities to shut down.
HRW says the next part of the infrastructure to fail will be the communication network. “The Israeli government’s decision to bar delivery of fuel to Gaza will trigger a complete communications blackout imminently if not urgently addressed, further endangering the lives of Gaza’s population, Human Rights Watch said today,” reads the report published on Wednesday. “Israel should allow desperately needed fuel into Gaza and refrain from deliberately shutting down or destroying telecommunications systems that cause disproportionate harm to civilians.”
The organization’s senior technology researcher, Deborah Brown, said the blackout could be exploited to commit undocumented war crimes. “Intentional, blanket shutdowns or restrictions on access to the internet violate multiple rights and can be deadly during crises,” she explained. “Prolonged and complete communications blackouts, like those experienced in Gaza, can provide cover for atrocities and breed impunity while further undermining humanitarian efforts and putting lives at risk.”
As Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza on October 27, its forces disabled communication centers in the strip, causing a 34-hour blackout. Tel Aviv’s military operations also knocked out communications in Gaza on November 1 and 5, according to HRW.
On Thursday, the UN human rights chief pushed for an international investigation into war crimes. “As bombardment continues by air, intense urban warfare is also underway. In the very few hospitals that are still functioning, doctors operate on screaming children without anesthetic, using mobile phones for light,” he said in testimony to the UN Security Council.
“WHO has recorded at least 137 attacks on health care in Gaza, with especially severe impact on Al-Shifa Hospital in recent days, where newborns on life support are dying due to power, oxygen, and water cuts, while many other patients of all ages are at risk – as well as medics, and people sheltering on the hospital grounds. And yet international humanitarian law requires special protection to medical units at all times, so that they can continue their life-saving work.”
Turk continued, “Extremely serious allegations of multiple and profound breaches of international humanitarian law, whoever commits them, demand rigorous investigation and full accountability.” He added, “Where national authorities prove unwilling or unable to carry out such investigations, and where there are contested narratives on particularly significant incidents, international investigation is called for.”
The Israeli onslaught has turned Gaza into a humanitarian catastrophe. At least 11,000 people have been killed, including 4,500 children. Turk says that amounts to “One in every 57 people living in the Gaza strip has been killed or wounded in the past five weeks. Of the 2.3 million people that live in Gaza, 1.5 million have been displaced. It is the deadliest conflict for UN staff and journalists in decades.