Israel’s Weaponization of Water: An Urgent Call to Provide Full Access to Water Services in Gaza

Mohsen Nagheeby, Alistair Rieu-Clarke, Stephen McCaffrey, Raya Marina Stephan; Ana Elisa Cascão; Owen McIntyre, Alan Nicol, Alex Meland, Hussam Hussein, Francesca de Châtel, Rawia Tawfik, Cara Flowers, Emanuele Fantini, Fuad Bateh.

“Wadi Gaza 2010” (Credits: @CaraFlowers)

This might be my last email to you [… while] we [with my wife and my five kids] have been deprived completely from water, electricity and food […]. Please […] do whatever you can to stop the genocide […] [we] may not be the same colour as [you] but [we] are not ‘human animals’.

– A Palestinian academic living in Gaza.

The weaponization of water and its infrastructure has become increasingly evident in recent armed conflicts. These acts seriously threaten the lives of the civilian population, especially the most vulnerable groups, such as children. Two days after Hamas launched its attack, Israel imposed a “total” blockade and cut the water supplies into the already besieged Gaza Strip –home to approximately 2.3 million people. On 9 October, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defence Minister, announced “a complete siege on Gaza …. No electricity, no food, no water, no gas – it’s all closed”.

The people of Gaza are in terrible peril now and the blockage of water supplies only compounds the misery of the millions of civilians in Gaza. In this post, we join the call to both parties to stop the war, and seek to briefly highlight some notable implications of Israel’s act of water blockage. We refer our discussion to the relevant framework of international humanitarian law in relation to freshwater supplies, in particular the draft Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure that sets out international rules that are applicable during armed conflicts and makes valuable recommendations. We urgently call for solidarity with all people on both sides of the war. Millions of defenceless people, including women and children in Gaza, face a deepening humanitarian crisis, a catastrophic chain of events, and a lack of the most basic human needs – water and food.

Even in times of conflict, States are obligated to protect the fundamental rights of civilians by prohibiting the use of water as a means of warfare, and respecting water as a fundamental human right.

A prohibition of the use of water as a means of warfare

The International Law Association in the Madrid Rules of 1976 addressed the use of water infrastructure, and water itself, in the context of armed conflict. Article III sets forth specific prohibition for the protection of the civilian population and the environment:

“The diversion of waters for military purposes should be prohibited when it would cause disproportionate suffering to the civilian population or substantial damage to the ecological balance of the area concerned. A diversion that is carried out in order to damage or destroy the minimum conditions of survival of the civilian population or the basic ecological balance of the area concerned or in order to terrorize the population should be prohibited in any case.”

The following proposal during the drafting of the UN 1997 Watercourses Convention on the use of water and water infrastructure as means of warfare is applicable in this case:

“Withholding, by diversion or other means, of water from a system State so as to place in jeopardy the survival of the civilian population or to imperil the viability of the environment is prohibited in peacetime and in time of armed conflict.”

Article 29 of the Watercourses Convention also applies:

“International watercourses and related installations, facilities and other works shall enjoy the protection accorded by the principles and rules of international law applicable in international and non-international armed conflict and shall not be used in violation of those principles and rules.”

More recently, the 2019 Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure has restated the obligation upon States to, “refrain from using water infrastructure and water-related infrastructure as a means of warfare”.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has confirmed that water has now become a “matter of life and death” for people in Gaza. While Israel’s act of water blockage has no direct ‘military purpose’, it is, as announced by Israeli military authorities, seen as a military tactic to put in “jeopardy the survival of the civilian population”, and to put pressure on people in Gaza. It is therefore unlawful.

Water is a fundamental human right

The human right to water requires that everyone should have “access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use” (UNGA Res 72/178 (29 January 2018), § 2.). All States are obliged to respect the human right to water through both positive and negative obligations. Under Articles 11(1) and 12(1) of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the human right to water is legally binding.

General Comment 15 – adopted in 2002 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which monitors the implementation of the ICESCR – declares that “the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”. The rights to water and sanitation are also included in other instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

General Comment 15 by the CESCR clearly stated that States, in accordance with international humanitarian law, must refrain from “limiting access to, or destroying, water services and infrastructure as a punitive measure” during armed conflicts.

A shortage of water and lack of access to sanitation may cause or aggravate other devastating crises, such as malnutrition and spread of diseases. This means that depriving people of water and sanitation during armed conflict may violate other human rights, which in turn can affect vulnerable groups, such as women and children, disproportionately.  

General Comment 15 also makes a link between the fulfilment of the right to water and the realization of the right to adequate food. Additional Protocol I, Art. 54(1) and Additional Protocol II, Art. 14 to the Geneva Conventions, specifically stipulate that the use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare must be prohibited. This rule is part of customary international law. Starvation not only means “killing by deprivation of water and food”, but also the deprivation of any essential commodity or thing necessary for survival. Therefore, international humanitarian law prohibits the use of starvation of the civilian population both in international and non-international armed conflicts.

Under Art. 49(1) and Art. 51(5)(b) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, such “acts of violence against the adversary, whether in offence or in defence” is disproportionate if it “may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” The devastating effects of Israel’s water blockage to the civilian population in Gaza is unequivocally disproportionate. Furthermore, Israel, as the occupying power, is also obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of Palestinians. The government of Israel’s act of cutting Gaza’s water, food, and electricity supplies is therefore in violation of its international law obligations, conventional and customary, under both international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

In addition to the violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, according to the Art. 85(3)(c) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, the illegal act of cutting water, food and power to civilians in Gaza raises significant questions relating to war crimes.

We call upon the government of Israel to respect its obligations under international law, to provide full access to water services to Gaza, and to refrain from targeting necessary water infrastructure and related personnel. We ask both parties to stop the war. As human beings we are all dependent on water for life. To remain human, we must do all we can to ensure the humanitarian access to water for all the people in Gaza. We call on the international community and on all States and relevant actors to join us in this call.


If you wish to support this appeal, contact Mohsen Nagheeby (


Mark Zeitoun

Shaddad Attili

Mufleh Alalaween

Rozemarijn ter Horst

Antti Rautavaara

Leo Heller

Muna Dajani

Giulio Castelli

Ele Jan Saaf

Saher Ayyad

David Chaquea Romero

Lyla Mehta

Suvi Sojamo

Bassem Abass

Ameer Naji

Markus Fittkow

Noemie Louvet

Mat Nashed

Susana Neto

Hüseyin Gündoğdu

Perihane Allam

Marko Keskinen

Kyungmee Kim

Nada Abdelwahab

Mehran Saleem

Hanadi Bader

Waseem Altamimi 

Larry A. Swatuk

Isabela Espindola

Mehdi Fasihi

Anas Tallou

Intesar Razaq Hussain

Murtada Jumaa Hassan

Francesca Greco

Filippo Menga

Heather Elaydi

Mehrdad pouya

Shirin Motahareh Lotfaliani

Samia Jaheen

Delphine Magara

Rosario Sanchez

Fairouz Slama

Ayah Aman

Hussain Baga

Jeff Camkin

Fawzia Ammoura

Ghadeer Arafeh

John Jewers 

Hichem Chenaker

Benjamin Schmidt

Serena Sandri

Lara khaled

Michelle Rudolph

Abdessamad Ghacha

Sam Bahour

Benjamin Schütze

Fariba Alamgir

Yomna ElSharony

Maysoon Zoubi

Kevin Wheeler

Edoardo Borgomeo

Sachin Tiwale

Wafaa abu Hammour

Nashwan Dhahir

Milad Jafari

Nooh Alshyab

Behnam Andik

Darius Borhan

Ain Contractor

Gül Özerol

Amin Shakya

Elizabeth Wambui Mwangi

Maureen Saldi

Mustafa Flaifel

Mohammad Awad

Gabriela Cuadrado-Quesada

Richard C Carter

Dona Geagea

Eyad Yaqob Ahmad Yaqob

Yasmin Zaerpoor

Raquel Matias

Mohammad Al-Saidi

Omama Y. Marzuq

Ines Dombrowsky

Mirja Schoderer

Annabelle Houdret

Jennife Dumalag-Borong

Michelle kooy

Mohammadnabi Jalali

Hojjat Mianabadi 

Hanadi Al-Baz

Francesco Sindico

Jaime Amezaga

Ayat Alqudah

Isabel van Klink

Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud

Matteo Passeri

Elke Herrfahrdt

Sarah Bebb

Kata Molnar

Chadi Abdallah

Luiz Roberto Santos Moraes

Olivia Mason

Pani Haq Samiti

Murtah Shannon

Michelle LIM

Katharina Grüneisl

Joanna Allan

Jemima Repo

Ehsan Nabavi

Naho Mirumachi

Saker El Nour

Rachel Kurian

Natalija Vojno

Viviana Re

Palerm Jacinta

Farhad Mukhtarov

Zeray Yihdego 

Somayeh G. Esfahani

Issufo Chutumia 

Mohamed Mohieddin

Jonathan Coulter

Fadime Uzun

Marcela González Rivas

Muqaddas Tariq

Mishka Stuip

Carel Keuls

Rossella Alba

Samer Alatout

Mita Kusumaningrum



Cite this blog post
Mohsen (2023, October 19). Israel’s Weaponization of Water: An Urgent Call to Provide Full Access to Water Services in Gaza. FLOWs. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from


Dr. Mohsen Nagheeby is a Research Associate in Water Security and Policy at Newcastle University, UK. He received his Ph.D. in international law at Northumbria University, School of Law, where he focused specifically on ‘Anarchy and the Law of International Watercourses’.

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25 Responses

  1. Rachel Kurian says:

    Rachel Kurian

  2. Rachel Kurian says:

    I support the appeal

  3. Saker ElNour says:

    Saker El Nour

  4. Isabel says:

    Isabel van Klink

  5. Ayat says:

    Everyone should have the right to clean water, and it’s wrong to use it to harm innocent people.
    Ayat Alqudah

  6. Maureen Saldi says:

    Water is a necessitie of life. We can not turn or back to people, whereas it be adults or children, sick or healthy, enemy or friend and see them denied water as a way of weaponization. Provide Gaza with water.

  7. Ariana says:

    Water is a human right and it should not be used threaten the lives of innocent civilians!

  8. Elizabeth Wambui Mwangi says:

    Water and other basic services should not be used as a weapon. Power play and show of might should consider the suffering of civilians. There can not be sobriety if pride rides the day.

  9. Lamis Qdemat says:

    The article is good. Much appreciation for all the authors to put this together.

    I have a good background in terms of using concepts and sometimes using sensitive words can impact the intentions that we are intended to do.

    For me, the introduction really matters and how it was framed needs a little reconsidered:
    1- The Armed conflict: if we add this big word in the introduction directly it refers back to the original history between Palestine and Israel as an armed conflict. My point here is that this is a very long occupational history and never started with armed from the Palestinian side (that never had an army). It needs a short background about the historical context in the region. For example, the Israel occupation started the colonization of Palestine in 1948.

    2- The Hamas attack: this is what Western news is saying, and most of the readers don’t know what happened for 75 years, they will think that the two populations were living in peace, and all of a sudden Hamas launched its attacks and then Israelis had to protect themselves. In fact, it is not like it has been ongoing since the years that Israel bombed Gaza, recently in May 2023.

    I am aware that scientific writing should be neutral, however, how this was framed is not. Blaming Hamas for everything but trying to help the Civilians of Gaza is a good intention however missing the point of actually helping.

  10. Gül Özerol says:

    Gül Özerol

  11. Peter van der Steen says:

    Although I do support the call to restore humanitarian supplies, including water, to the civilian population of Gaza, I am shocked by the neutral formulation “…. Hamas launched its attack”. You should have included the words: horrible terrorist attack, taking the lives of innocent people and taking hostages as well. By using those words you would have shown empathy for both sides. Reading your legal approach, you are probably right from that point of view, but I feel a cold wind.
    See also:

    • Ayah Abdin says:

      It should be noted to readers that the water problem did not only arise after the “Hamas attack” but rather this is ONE of the reasons that Hamas launched the attack in the first place. This water problem has been going on for years because water is controlled solely by Israel.
      If Hamas is referred to as a terrorist than the opposite side is what? They have been terrorizing men, women and children for decades. Does the media you read, write about this? There are children in prisons! This is all before the Hamas attack. Did you know that so many Palestinian wells, especially farmers where they live off their land, are filled with cement so they become disconnected from the grid and unable to survive? This is a common practice where soldiers just laugh with pride after committing such acts. This is their way of telling them to leave. But the media censors all this and has now all of a sudden focused on Hamas being a terrorist and everyone else gets a golden pass for their inhuman acts that have gone on for years before the “Hamas’ attack”.
      Please I ask, do not believe everything you read. The hospitals were not Hamas. The church was not Hamas. Aid is not simply going in now…where the headline makes it sound like a good thing, only 20 trucks went in… that is 1 truck for every 100,000 persons who already are cut off from basic necessities, who are sleeping on the streets with their bloody clothes and dusty bodies that they cannot wash due to lack of water. Yet all these acts are forgotten and media keeps mentioning the day Hamas attacked. It is truly inhumane and sad. Please remember that media is very very misleading. If you have an open mind, turn on Al Jazeera in English and compare. Al Jazeera which is currently getting threats to leave. Al Jazeera who just the other day had a reporter shot down by the Israeli forces. Is this just? If they are not doing anything wrong, what are they hiding, why are they behaving this way? I am not pro war but finally due to Hamas’ attack (which consisted of small rockets only and taking hostages in and treating them well) Palestinians are now being heard. Hamas wanted to release two hostages yesterday, but the Israeli government said no. Why? How come? They filled the media with Hamas has hostages, look how evil they are.
      Apologies for this reply, I don’t mean to argue but please try to read the unbiased media.

  12. Samia Jahee says:

    Water should definitely not be weaponized!

  13. Michelle Rudolph says:

    Michelle Rudolph

  14. Ayman says:

    These acts seriously threaten the lives of the civilian

  15. John says:

    There is no excuse to deny people water. None.

  16. fairouz slama says:

    I want to sign the call

  17. Doaa says:

    Free Gaza

  18. Ahmed says:

    Provide Gaza with water

  19. Lara Khaled says:

    Lara khaled

  20. Yes water shouldn’t be weaponised under any circumstances.

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