Bodies of Palestinians killed by an explosion at the Ahli Arab hospital are gathered in the front yard of the al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

Gaza's infrastructure near collapse as Israel-Hamas war continues

In Gaza on Tuesday, a hospital was struck by a bomb, killing hundreds of people. Hospitals in Gaza were already at a breaking point, straining under an overwhelming stream of injured patients and dwindling fuel and supplies. Tanya Hari, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization in Israel, spoke with The World's Marco Werman about humanitarian aid.

The World

People across the globe are watching events in the Gaza Strip 10 days after an unprecedented and deadly attack by Hamas.

Israel's bombardment of the Palestinian territory has been unrelenting. And rockets continue to fire out of Gaza into Israel. 

On Tuesday, Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City was struck by a bomb. Reports say hundreds of people were killed. The Palestinian Health Ministry alleges that an Israeli air strike hit the hospital. But the Israeli military issued a statement saying rockets fired by Islamic Jihad were responsible for those deaths.

Hospitals in Gaza were already at a breaking point. 

Gaza's border crossings remain closed. Food, water, medical supplies and other basic necessities can't get in, and residents can't get out. Its fragile medical system is straining under an overwhelming stream of injured patients and dwindling fuel and supplies.

Tanya Hari is executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that works with Palestinians, especially from Gaza.

Hari spoke with The World's Marco Werman to discuss how humanitarian aid typically works between Israel and Gaza. 

Marco Werman: How did basic necessities get into Gaza before Israel declared a siege after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack? How did that work? 
Tanya Hari: So, there's one goods crossing that connects Israel to the Gaza Strip, the Kerem Shalom crossing. And that crossing was a vital entry point for fuel, food, all the goods going into Gaza, other than a small crossing with the Egyptian border called Salahadin, where you had some items coming in, fewer than Kerem Shalom, but a growing amount in the previous years. In addition to the crossing itself, you had fuel coming in through pipelines, through that crossing, in addition to electricity, crossing in 10 high-tension lines from Israel, as well as, of course, other infrastructure, internet, phone lines also coming from Israel.
Did anything get by the borders without Israel's consent?
Through the Israeli borders? No. I mean, everything that comes into Gaza requires coordination. Everything from baby food to children's toys. All of those items require coordination. And, of course, a long list of items we estimate probably in the thousands would require special coordination, items that were considered to be dual use. That is, they have a civilian and a military purpose. And those items would be restricted and sometimes not let in at all. And they would be vital for a range of institutions, for civilian infrastructure, for health needs, for industry. And those have been severely restricted from coming into Gaza, at least for the past 16 years.
And there are tunnels through which goods get into Gaza illegally, at least from the Israeli point of view, that's illegal.
It's estimated that there is probably a handful of tunnels running under the Gaza-Egypt border that are still bringing in goods. And some goods also coming in overland through that small crossing I mentioned, Salahadin.
Was much of Gaza's infrastructure, like its main power plant, were those built at a time when it was much more integrated into Israel's economy?
Interestingly, the power plant was yeah, it was built in the early 2000s. And Enron was actually a big investor in the plant itself. And, you know, there was a recognition that Gaza would need to be able to produce power independently. But the plant is based on diesel, not clean energy whatsoever. And it requires, you know, millions of liters of fuel per month to function. And most of the time that fuel is coming in from Israel. In previous years, it's been bought by the Qatari government, purchased for Palestinians in Gaza, but it's purchased from Israeli sources and brought into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. That fuel was stopped last week and a few days later, the power plant completely stopped functioning. In addition to that, you had those high-tension lines bringing electricity from Israel, and that power was also cut by Israel last Sunday night. And a few days later, you just had a virtual blackout with the power plant shutting down with no electricity coming in through the high-tension lines. When you see images of Gaza now at night, it's just total blackness.
Yeah, I was going to ask, what does that mean? Is there no power at all right now in Gaza?
Right now, there is no power in the electric grid whatsoever in Gaza. The only power that people have is through backup generators. So, Gaza's hospitals are fully functioning right now, 24/7, on their backup generators. In people's homes, the people who can afford fuel and still have it because it's quickly running out, they use their generators sparingly just a few times a day. They might turn it on to charge their phones. But you have more and more people being completely cut off, just having no power whatsoever. No fuel has come in, and there's no prospect really of it coming in. So, it's really a dire situation.
And finally, what about water? How much water depends on the desalination plant in Gaza that runs on fuel? I mean, is the equation no fuel then? No water?
Right now, the four desalination plants in Gaza are not functioning at all for lack of fuel. Water was also cut from Israel last week, so no water was coming in. Yesterday, it was reported that Israel would allow a little bit of water into one area in the south of the strip. It's about 4% of what was coming in before. So, really, it's just a fraction and isn't meeting needs. And without electricity, people can't pump that water to their homes. So, yeah, the only source right now are very small facilities run by the private sector. And some of those are running on solar power.

This interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report. 

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