Will Israel commit war crimes by cutting off food/water, electricity, and fuel to the Gaza Strip?

The Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant was quoted today:

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says he has ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip, as Israel fights the Hamas terror group.

“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed,” Gallant says following an assessment at the IDF Southern Command in Beersheba.

“We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” he adds.

Intentionally starving a civilian population is a violation of the Geneva convention and is prohibited under international law.

This question will resolve YES if two conditions are both met by end of 2024:

  1. The seige is carried out largely as described, with the Gaza strip cut off from food/water, fuel and electricity via Israeli-controlled territory (if goods/services can still enter via the border with Egypt, that is not relevant for this condition).

  2. There is a consensus view among experts in international law that this was a war crime.

Even though the minister only mentioned food, cutting off either food or water, in addition to fuel and electricity, will satisfy condition 1. The seige does not have to be perfect for condition 1. to be met: policy mostly but imperfectly followed will still satisfy it. Official policy to allow food, fuel, or electricity selectively, for humanitarian reasons, will mean condition 1 is not met. There may be some grey area here, in which case I will use my judgement.

Condition 2 requires a consensus view among experts in international law that this seige was a war crime. Israel is a party to the Geneva convention and has ratified its four main conventions, but is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court. Thus, the ICC may not have jurisdiction - it's not clear. In any case, end of 2024 is likely too soon for official judgement by an international court, and so condition 2. will be judged based on the consensus view as I can best discern in the absence of official judgement. I will draw on Wikipedia and seek the views of experts in international law, and am open to other suggestions for how to discern this.

I won't bet on this market.

Edit Oct 9th PST: changed "consensus among the international community" to "consensus among experts in international law", I will refund the losses of those who bet on the distinction.

2nd Edit Oct 9th: clarified that a blockade by Israel still counts even if the Eyptian border is still open.

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ICC, not ICJ, but still: "The charges against Netanyahu and Gallant include “causing extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, including the denial of humanitarian relief supplies, deliberately targeting civilians in conflict,” Khan told Amanpour." (EXCLUSIVE: ICC seeks arrest warrants against Sinwar and Netanyahu for war crimes over October 7 attack and Gaza war)

@adssx I don't think it is an official ruling yet

Somehow blockading a "country" run by a genocidal terrorist regime is considered a war crime

@AlexCao Who it's run by doesn't affect the expectations of how civilians should be treated in war, so yes, it might be (though that's what this market is asking - I don't know the answer yet).

@chrisjbillington AFAIK most of the aid trucks blocked by IDF were carrying industrial and construction materials, which I think is perfectly reasonable

@AlexCao That may be, but they did block food, water, and fuel - I consider that part of the resolution criteria satisfied. We now await some kind of expert consensus on whether this was a war crime or not. Feel free to link to relevant experts opining whether it was or not, as that's what this market will resolve on.

Who determines if there is "consensus" and who are these experts in international law that will be used to decide? Most "experts" you see in the new take sides.

@DavidDworman It's true media reports can be biased and pick and choose their experts, so indeed I'm not resolving on media reports - media reports might be relevant, but it would have to be established independently that the experts they're citing are indeed authoritative and representative of consensus, and not cherry-picked.

Ideally I'm looking for consensus among whatever experts or institutions, that, prior to this conflict, would have been regarded as authorities in international law. I don't know who this will be, but people can feel free to link to things, and I'll go looking to see if it sounds like a consensus is emerging as the market close date gets closer.

This all seems to hinge on whether any blockade of Gaza amounts to a war crime.

Blockades are a legitimate instrument of war - no-one expects a protagonist to supply their enemy - but a process for allowing only humanitarian essentials and no potential military materiel is very hard to set up.

The "war crimes" tag is thrown around without a lot of consideration in the media. You can certainly find experts in such laws to speak to either side. A true consensus is unlikely; an international court decision will probably take decades.

this will of course resolve yes. every day experts of international law insist israel is committing war crimes.

I'm not sure how doing 1 (as discussed, temporarily at worst, but you clarified that's not relevant for the purpose of the market) but still letting stuff come in from Egypt is a war crime. Is Egypt also doing a war crime?

@nathanwei I don't quite follow. I thought I was following (you're saying it wasn't a complete cutoff, and therefore maybe won't be judged a war crime, because stuff could get in from Egypt still - sure, maybe that's how experts will see it, I don't know), but I can't figure out how your last question fits in. Could you clarify?

@chrisjbillington What I mean is, will these experts also judge that Egypt is committing a war crime?

There has been water from Israel in the southern Gaza strip for a while now. Doesn't this mean that condition 1 is not met any more?

@Shai Condition 1 didn't require the siege to be permanent, so given what I'm aware of, it has likely been met because the flow of relevant resources was cut off at some point, I think it might have been for about a week. I would confirm that before saying for sure that condition 1 was met and actually resolving the question based on it, but it doesn't become no-longer-met when the flow of food/water/electricity/fuel resumes.


My very shallow understanding is that war crimes and crimes against humanity are distinct things that often overlap. How would you rule if the consensus seems to point to crimes against humanity without explicitly including war crimes?

@georgeyw Hm. The linked article describes things as violations of international law, which is a superset and thus not inconsistent with "war crime", maybe they're just avoiding the term even though that's what they're talking about? If so, and if a consensus developed on the matter, I'd expect other sources to be more explicit.

I was not thinking of the possibility of a distinction between war crimes and other violations of international law when writing the question, but they are at war and war crimes do seem the most relevant kind of violation of international law. I'm inclined to say let's stick with it needing to be a "war crime" specifically.

Does bombing a hospital count as war crimes?

@dittopoop FWIW that's not relevant to this question, which is only about the blockade of food/water, fuel and electricity.

(And of course, whether Israel bombed it or not is currently contested)

But, to answer your question as a hypothetical, it depends on the hospital and reasons for bombing it. Targeting civilians, hospital or not, is a war crime. If however a hospital is a strategic target because e.g. it is used to launch rockets, then bombing it might not be a war crime, even if the attacker knew there would be civilian deaths, as the civilians were not the target. It would depend on whether it was necessary and proportionate, and whether the civilians could have been evacuated, and things like that.

If warning shots or an announcement could have prevented civilian deaths without compromising the attack on the strategic target, generally the attacker would be required to do so under international law.

In doing a bit of background reading for this question, I was surprised to learn that international law does seem to allow knowingly causing civilian deaths to a much greater degree than I expected.

I am not an expert so take this with a grain of salt, if my impression is grossly wrong perhaps someone can correct me.

And I have no idea about the actual hospital that was bombed, whether Israel did it, and whether it would be a war crime if they did.

predicts NO
predicts YES

@SemioticRivalry Doesn’t this prove they did it? They had to do it first in order to reverse is

predicts NO

@NADZOR I don't think it happening for one day should suffice for this market. Hard to imagine a war where goods are continuously flowing to both warring parties for the entire duration.

predicts YES

@SemioticRivalry It’s not about interruption of goods due to war; it was the purposeful prevention of access to water, which was only lifted after pressure from their most crucial ally.

@SemioticRivalry Shortly after I made this market I was seeing news headlines that water, electricity, and the flow of goods (i.e. fuel) had been cut off. I'll look for sources to confirm, but it seems that the "siege" was in place for just under a week.

I suppose the shorter it is the less likely it might be to be judged a war crime, though.

I didn't put a minimum duration on it in the resolution criteria, but I think it's probably fine that I didn't, since the question is about whether it's a war crime, and it's up to those judging that how long is long enough.

@chrisjbillington They only opened it for a couple hours then shut it off again. Only 14% of south Gaza residents benefited from it.

Not to mention it was only in the south, not the north.

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