The Israeli air force launched airstrikes on two water wells that are indispensable to the basic needs of around 32,000 people in the towns of Al-Mughraqa and Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip. The attacks also caused severe damage and destruction to sanitation facilities and networks in the area.
At 10pm on Wednesday, 8 August 2018, Israeli warplanes bombarded the sanitation section of Al-Mughraqa Municipality, which holds four facilities that include a reservoir with a capacity of 250 cubic meters of water. The attack resulted in the complete destruction of the municipality building that operates the sanitation and sewage services, and the destruction of the reservoir and its tubing, the water well, the water pipelines, and vital appliances, such as meters, filters, and pumps. The attack also destroyed a 110-KVA electricity generator, a 2,800-liter diesel container, a diesel pump, and three Municipality vehicles and their spare parts. Some houses nearby were partially damaged.
Around 11,500 residents of Al-Mughraqa now rely on only one well and as a result do not have sufficient access to water. The Municipality has informed the residents that water availability will be reduced to once every five days, down from once every other day. The water supply will only be available for a period of three hours.
In a separate attack, at approximately 2:30am on Thursday, 9 August 2018, Israeli warplanes fired two missiles at a well in Al-Atatira neighborhood. The well belongs to the Municipality of Beit Lahia in the district of North Gaza. The well was completely destroyed together with electricity meters and distribution pipelines. The water well was used to supply around 20,000 residents with water in several neighborhoods of Beit Lahia.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns the destruction of the wells and the sanitation facility at a time when the population in the Gaza Strip endures severe lack of access to clean water and struggles to process wastewater.
The deliberate destruction of water wells constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law and could amount to a war crime. Such attacks are prohibited under Article 54 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which mandates the “protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population [including drinking water supplies and irrigation works]” and under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
The destruction of the wells highlights persisting concerns over patterns of attack that run counter to basic obligations under international law. Attacks on civilian and public infrastructure and property have become a feature of the hostilities in the Gaza Strip: in the summer of 2014, the Israeli military caused massive destruction to vital infrastructure, including water, electricity and sanitation systems and pipelines. The targeting of public infrastructure that is indispensable to the basic needs of protected persons must not become normalized, but instead must be investigated to international standards and perpetrators of breaches of the laws of war and human rights must be held to account. Al Mezan stresses that the failure to hold to account perpetuators of international law violations encourages the perpetuation of harmful policies vis-à-vis the Palestinian population in Gaza.
Al Mezan urges the international community to take prompt and effective steps to: