Analysis: What exactly is a humanitarian crisis?

Words don't explain how the gov't will make sure that it does not cause a humanitarian crisis.

UNRWA 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNRWA 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ever since the government decided to impose sanctions on Gaza following the Hamas takeover and the ongoing rocket attacks against the northwest Negev, it has created a mantra to reassure the world that it has its own moral red line as to how far it will go. "We will not allow a humanitarian crisis in Gaza," the maxim goes. It has used this mantra time and time again in its responses to the High Court of Justice and in public declarations to the local and international community. But words themselves do not explain how the government will actually make sure that it does not cause a humanitarian crisis. In other words, what is the definition of a humanitarian crisis? Who defines it? And who is supposed to know if the situation in Gaza does reach the point of a humanitarian crisis? The officer of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories is government's eyes and ears on this matter. The office includes several departments responsible for doing the job. For example, one section maintains contacts with international aid organizations and other groups that monitor Gaza, while another is responsible for maintaining contacts with Palestinian officials in charge of infrastructure in the Strip, including electricity and water. This is the body that provides the cabinet with the relevant data and carries out research on questions raised by the government. For example, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to reduce the Israeli supply of electricity to Gaza, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz asked for details about which power lines supplied power to hospitals and other humanitarian facilities, to make sure their supply would not be harmed by the measure. As long as Mazuz is satisfied that a specific government measure within a range of measures that he has approved will not damage these fundamental humanitarian requirements, he will okay them. That, at least, is the theory. The implementation is not always so neat. For example, on the question of the power cuts that the government wanted to impose, it turned out that the information provided to Mazuz and the State Attorney's Office by the Defense Ministry was incorrect. Mazuz had to shamefacedly admit this to the court when he found out. Furthermore, it is a safe bet that the measures, after being okayed by Mazuz, will face one more hurdle - the High Court of Justice. What is acceptable to Mazuz and the government may not be acceptable to the court, as we have seen so far with the electricity cuts sought by the government and even in the cuts in the supply of industrial diesel to fuel the Gaza power station, which the government recently restored. The sealing of the border crossings has raised new and disturbing questions about Israel's self-proclaimed red line. Since Friday, no medicines or basic foodstuffs have been allowed to enter Gaza. Meanwhile, Dalia Salha, an official in the World Health Organization in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, warned that regular diesel fuel reserves used to run the generators in the six government hospitals in Gaza were at 20 percent of their total capacity. If the closure continues for only a few more days, there is no doubt that there will be a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. However, according to Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen, there has been no change in government policy regarding the measures to be taken against Gaza. The border crossings will be reopened in the next day or two. According to Cohen, there will not be a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But attorney Sari Bashi, director-general of the human rights organization Gisha, warned that Israel was playing with fire. "Israel is deliberately denying goods and causing harm to water supplies, hospitals and schools," she said. "Any harm to vital humanitarian services is illegal, but the game of deliberately pushing matters to the edge and then saying oops, we miscalculated, is morally reprehensible. I don't know how much harm they'll inflict on Gaza before saying it's enough."