The detaining authority is responsible for those who die in detention, whether they are held in a traditional brick and mortar prison or large strip of land.  

For almost nine years now, Israel has effectively detained 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, leading many to describe the area as the largest open air prison in the world. Because it has left Gazans with few, if any, ways of leaving the tiny strip of land, the Israeli government is responsible for those who have died as a result of its siege. This includes three Palestinian toddlers in the Shati refugee camp, in northern Gaza, who were killed this past weekend, as a result of incessant power cuts created by Israel’s constant attacks.

Aged between six months and three years old, the three young children, who were members of the Hendi family, burnt to death after a lit candle fell on a mattress and set their bedroom on fire, as reported by the Middle East Eye. Their terrified mother witnessed the gruesome scene but was unable to save her children.

During Gaza’s frequent electricity cuts, candles are often the only available light source and, as such, an increasingly common cause of death. As reported by Electronic Intifada, on April 1, 2012, Farah, aged 5, Nadine, aged 6, and Sabri, aged 4, died in their bedroom in Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza, when a candle started a fire in their bedroom while they were asleep. At the time, their mother recounted that “she never used candles before then but had no choice that evening as their electricity would not work.”

Gaza’s dire electricity situation began nearly ten years ago. According to a fact sheet from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, “[a]n Israeli airstrike in June 2006 targeting the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) marked the start of an electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, which is still ongoing.” Since then, the deteriorating power situation has profoundly affected all of Gaza’s residents.

While the Palestinian Authority and Hamas hold some responsibility for the electricity crisis, the lion’s share of blame rests with Israel. As Al Jazeera English reports:

The electricity crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip affects every facet of daily life, from making bread, to obtaining medical treatment, to earning a living. . . . Gaza is currently on a schedule of eight hours off and eight hours on, but even this is unreliable and subject to frequent change. Distribution is unequal, and cuts of up to two hours are common during each eight-hour span. The bombing of Gaza’s power plant in 2006, coupled with sanctions and restrictions imposed as part of Israel’s blockade on the coastal enclave, have exacerbated the crisis, while the electricity network suffered further damage in the 2014 war.

During Operation Protective Edge, the seven-week military assault that took place in the summer of 2014 and wreaked unprecedented destruction upon Gaza’s already decimated infrastructure, an “apparent Israeli shellfire [knocked] out the Gaza Strip’s only electrical power plant on July 29, 2014,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.

At the time, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Eric Goldstein, declared that “[i]f there were one attack that could be predicted to endanger the health and well-being of the greatest number of people in Gaza, hitting the territory’s sole electricity plant would be it.” Indeed, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has reported that “electricity cuts” top the list of major problems in the Shati refugee camp where the Hendi family lives.

Adding insult to injury, Israel has prevented Gaza from importing spare parts to fix the GPP and keep it running. If it had, it is highly like the Hendi children, and the many others who have died as a result of the power crisis, could have been saved.  

Until the international community wakes up and smells the occupation’s fetid industrial-scale production of human suffering, the deaths of innocent Palestinian children will join the many other horrors on Israel’s endless list of crimes against the Palestinian people.

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