A Real Friend Tells You When You’re Committing a War Crime

John Oliver brilliantly describes the terribly unbalanced situation in Israel and Gaza and our government’s failure to respond or even admit what’s happening.

They say whoever mentions the Nazis first automatically loses the argument. However:

Germany took property from Jews and gave it to Gentiles. Israel is taking property from Palestinians and giving it to Israelis.

When resistance fighters killed a German soldier, the Germans retaliated by killing a disproportionate number of civilians. When members of Hamas fire rockets and kill Israelis, Israel retaliates by killing a disproportionate number of Palestinians, mostly civilians.

It’s time for the US to put real pressure on Israel to end its brutal treatment of the Palestinians. In particular, we need to stop subsidizing Israel’s powerful military. From NBC News:

For decades, billions of dollars in American military aid to Israel has been justified as necessary to help an underdog nation stave off an array of powerful foes threatening its survival. . . . 

But as Israel now demonstrates its ability to inflict a lopsided death count on the Palestinians, it’s time to acknowledge that this depiction of Israel no longer has any basis in reality. Instead, U.S. aid merely polishes the armor of a regional Goliath in its contests with David.

Right now, the U.S. provides $3.8 billion to Israel annually — equivalent to 20 percent of Israel’s defense budget and nearly three-fifths of U.S. foreign military financing globally.

Meanwhile, Congress oftens adds more on top of the annual $3.8 billion commitment. For instance, though the Iron Dome was developed by Israel, its improvement and deployment have received $1.6 billion in U.S. funding in addition to the yearly allocation.

After years of this largesse, combined with its own improved military capabilities, Israel isn’t about to run out of weaponry without U.S. funding; in fact, Israel now exports many of the arms it produces. At this point, U.S. military aid is essentially underwriting a regional heavyweight that sells so many weapons abroad it’s ranked as the eighth-largest arms exporter on the planet. . . . 

It’s just that giving so much aid to Israel is clearly unnecessary given its current posture. Today Israel can defend itself just fine and acquire whatever American weapons it needs without an annual check from Uncle Sam. And it’s not like the allowance from Washington necessarily secures Israeli compliance with U.S. policies and objectives.

Indeed, U.S. aid to Israel has proven ineffectual in leveraging genuine cooperation with recent peace initiatives. Rather, the opposite dynamic prevails, as the allegedly corrupt but evidently unsinkable Netanyahu himself overtly intervenes in U.S. domestic politics. He punishes American politicians critical of Israel or supportive of the nuclear deal with Iran, while backing those such as [the previous president] willing to write Israel a blank check.

Repeated U.S. attempts to rein in Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas have been met with defiance. Requests for Israel to make concessions to Palestinians at the bargaining table have been shrugged off. Growing criticism by American groups over Israeli human rights violations and anti-democratic policies have done little to change Israeli behavior.

An Israeli on Failure in Gaza and the Way Out

Assaf Sharon, a philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University, has an article in the New York Review of Books concerning the recent violence in the Gaza Strip and the only realistic way to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Below are extended selections from “Failure in Gaza”, which is available in full here:

“In Israel, endless controversy over Gaza has overlooked one question: How did we get here in the first place? Why, after a considerable period of relative calm, did Hamas resume rocket fire into Israel?”

“Before the current operation began, Hamas was at one of the lowest points in its history….In these circumstances, Hamas agreed last April to reconciliation with its political rival Fatah, based on Fatah’s terms. For example, the agreement called for a government of technocrats largely under the control of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas.”

“But Benjamin Netanyahu viewed the reconciliation as a threat rather than an opportunity….He saw the reconciliation with Hamas as an opportunity to criticize the Palestinian president…. As soon as the reconciliation was announced, Netanyahu launched a public offensive against Palestinian unity and demanded that the international community oppose it….”

“Netanyahu could have chosen a different path. He could have used the reconciliation to reinforce Abbas’s position and further destabilize Hamas. He could, in recognition of the agreement, have encouraged Egypt to open its border with Gaza in order to demonstrate to Gazans that the Palestinian Authority offered a better life than Hamas. Instead, Israel prevented the transfer of salaries to 43,000 Hamas officials in Gaza, sending a clear message that Israel would not treat Gaza any differently under the rule of moderate technocrats from the Palestinian Authority.”

“The abduction of three Israeli youths in the West Bank on June 12 gave Netanyahu another opportunity to undermine the reconciliation…. Despite the statement by … the Hamas political bureau chief, that the Hamas political leadership did not know of the plans to carry out the abduction, Netanyahu was quick to lay the blame on Hamas, declaring that Israel had ‘unequivocal proof’ that the organization was involved in the abduction.”

“As yet, Israeli authorities have produced no such proof and the involvement of the Hamas leadership in the kidnapping remains unclear. While the individuals suspected of having carried out the kidnapping are associated with Hamas, some of the evidence suggests that they may have been acting on their own initiative and not under the direction of Hamas’s central leadership. Regardless of this, Netanyahu’s response, apparently driven by the ill-advised aim of undermining Palestinian reconciliation, was reckless.”

“Determined to achieve by force what he failed to accomplish through diplomacy, Netanyahu not only blamed Hamas, but linked the abduction to Palestinian reconciliation, as if the two events were somehow causally related. ‘Sadly, this incident illustrates what we have been saying for months,’ he stated, ‘that the alliance with Hamas has extremely grave consequences’. Israeli security forces were in possession of evidence strongly indicating the teens were dead, but withheld this information from the public until July 1….”

“On the prime minister’s orders, IDF forces raided Hamas’s civil and welfare offices throughout the West Bank and arrested hundreds of Hamas leaders and operatives. These arrests did not help to locate the abductors or their captives. Among the arrested were fifty-eight Palestinians previously released as part of the deal to return the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been a captive of Hamas since 2006.”

“As part of this ill-conceived operation against Hamas, Israel also mounted air strikes on Hamas facilities in Gaza. Apparently, Hamas did not take an active part in firing rockets for more than two weeks, although it did not prevent other factions in Gaza from firing. Only on June 29 or 30 did Hamas restart the rocket bombardment of Israeli territory, which it had not engaged in since November 2012. Israel retaliated against Hamas in Gaza and a vicious cycle began. Netanyahu lost control over an escalation he had instigated. In his badly misjudged eagerness to blame Abbas and punish him for reconciling with Hamas, Netanyahu turned a vicious but local terrorist attack into a runaway crisis….”


“Israel’s conduct throughout the crisis has been based directly on Netanyahu’s philosophy of ‘conflict management’, whose underlying premise is that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians cannot be solved, but can be effectively ‘managed’ for a very long period of time. This feeble, not to mention defeatist, assumption is not only wrong but also dangerous, trapping Israel in an illusion that is shattered time and again. ‘Control’ and ‘stability’ only exist between each inevitable round of violence. In fact, recurring rounds of violence are inherent to this approach.”

“’Conflict management’ means continued Israeli control over the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, with the inevitable reality of organizations and factions struggling to overthrow that control. Under the illusion that the conflict is being managed, opportunities for change provided by calm periods are squandered….” 

“So long as Hamas is willing to use terror against innocent Israeli civilians and so long as it refuses to recognize the State of Israel, it will not be a ‘partner’ for peace. But it could be partner to interest-based agreements requiring it to modify its behavior, as many academic and security experts claim. In fact, despite Netanyahu’s being the most vocal opponent of dialogue with Gazan terror organizations, it was he who reached two agreements with Hamas: the 2011 Shalit deal and the 2012 agreement that ended Operation Pillar of Defense…” 

“A long-term resolution with respect to Gaza requires changing its political predicament. The only sensible way of doing this is to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, a state whose existence would be negotiated with the Palestine Liberation Organization under Abbas’s leadership. As part of a comprehensive political agreement, Hamas is very likely to agree to a long-term truce, as its representatives have repeatedly said.”

“In 1997, its founder and spiritual leader Ahmad Yassin suggested a thirty-year hudna (truce) with Israel. In 2006, one of its leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar, proposed a ‘long-term hudna’. Earlier this year, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas functionary in the West Bank, reiterated the organization’s willingness for a hudna and said the organization was willing to accept a peace agreement with Israel if a majority of Palestinians supported it. In 2010, in an interview with a Muslim Brotherhood daily circulated in Jordan, Hamas’s political leader Khaled Mashal expressed pragmatic views and willingness to reach an agreement with Israel. In late July, he [said] ‘We want peace without occupation, without settlements, without Judaization, without the siege’.”

“All these proposals were contingent on ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. They received no response from Israel. Although a Palestinian state contradicts Netanyahu’s ideological commitments and conflicts with his own political interests, a state is clearly in Israel’s interest….”

“The historic conflict with the Palestinians will not be settled by a single agreement. Reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians—overcoming decades of bloodshed and hatred—will require a long process of acceptance and forgiveness spanning years and probably decades. The armed conflict, however, can certainly be ended. Israel has already ended armed conflicts with several neighboring countries: with some, like Egypt and Jordan, it achieved comprehensive peace agreements; with others, it agreed to other kinds of accords.”

“An agreement can be reached with the Palestinians, too: the terms are known and the price is fixed. Whether it is reached or not is a matter of political will on the part of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Unfortunately, Israel’s current leadership will do anything to avoid this choice, to the detriment of both peoples.”

“The war in Gaza is, fundamentally, not about tunnels and not against rockets. It is a war over the status quo. Netanyahu’s ‘conflict management’ is a euphemism for maintaining a status quo of settlement and occupation, allowing no progress. The Israeli opposition must distance itself from this hopeless conception and other countries need to reject it. Both must be done forcefully and before violence erupts once more, and force becomes the only option—yet again.”

Final Words on Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and America

Not being a Muslim or a Jew, I don’t feel any special kinship with the Palestinians or the Israelis. And since I’m not a Christian either, I don’t have any special interest in the so-called “Holy Land”.

Yet I can’t remember being this disturbed by a national or international event since the 2000 Presidential election fiasco and our subsequent fantasy-based invasion of Iraq.

I didn’t mention 9/11. I was in Lower Manhattan that morning and soon thereafter, but that astounding, horrible event didn’t traumatize me as much as the immense fuck-up and scandalous political-judicial decisions that gave us President George W. Bush, and the evil way in which Bush and bastards like Cheney and Rumsfeld used 9/11 to justify their criminal behavior (which, of course, led to much more death and destruction in Iraq than occurred earlier in New York City).

Men (of course it’s almost always us) insist on killing innocent people. 9/11 was another example of that. There were fanatics and ideologues who claimed it was justified, but they were easy to ignore. For some reason, I’m finding it very difficult to ignore what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It’s so patently wrong, yet so many apparently reasonable people claim it’s completely justified (blind allegiance will have that effect). In addition, writing this blog and trying to be accurate has made me read more about the situation, and the more I read, the angrier I get.

So, regarding accuracy: A few days ago, I cited a United Nations report that said there was an Israeli airstrike on June 11, before the three teenagers were kidnapped, which was followed by someone in Gaza firing rockets at Israel. I’ve since seen another account here that says the rockets were fired before the airstrike. I also cited a Times of Israel article stating that Hamas launched its first barrage of rockets since 2012 on June 30, apparently in retaliation for another Israel airstrike. That implies that the rockets fired earlier in June weren’t fired by Hamas. It’s been pointed out, however, that there are non-Hamas factions in Gaza that sometimes fire rockets (and that Hamas has sometimes stopped them from doing so). The obvious moral here is that it’s often unclear who is doing what in this conflict and who did it first (“truth is the first casualty of war”).

Nevertheless, who first attacked by airstrike or rocket isn’t the main issue. The much bigger story, which many of Israel’s defenders fail to understand or accept, is that Israel provoked this latest round of fighting.

Therefore, as befits an enterprise that Alexa currently ranks as the 13,378,330th most-visited website in the world, I’ll now express my final thoughts on Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, mainly by quoting people who write better and are better informed. Let’s all hope the ceasefire announced last night becomes permanent. (After adding that last sentence just now, I checked and see that last night’s planned 72-hour ceasefire has already been broken.)

Last week, Henry Siegman, a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, published an article called, simply enough, “Israel Provoked This War”.

There seems to be near-universal agreement in the United States with President Barack Obama’s observation that Israel, like every other country, has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from threats directed at them from beyond its borders. But this anodyne statement does not begin to address the political and moral issues raised by Israel’s bombings and land invasion of Gaza: [1] who violated the cease-fire agreement that was in place since November 2012 and [2] whether Israel’s civilian population could have been protected by nonviolent means that would not have placed Gaza’s civilian population at risk.

Siegman quotes a piece by Nathan Thrall, an analyst at the non-profit International Crisis Group, who wrote that:

The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement [between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization]….Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza…, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt… For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last.

Siegman also quotes Yitzhak Laor, a writer for Haaretz. Here’s how Laor begins his article:

In the midst of events, with all the TV commotion enveloping the current crisis, one tends to forget the crux of the matter, the continuous chain linking it to previous steps – the foiling of negotiations with the Palestinians, refusal to release prisoners as agreed upon, incitement against their unity government and the expansion of settlements. All of these are part of [Israel’s] right-wing government’s plan to destroy any political entity in the occupied territories, turning the Palestinian people, at best, into a fragmented, marginalized people deprived of their rights.

Siegman concludes that the U.S. needs to exert more pressure on Israel, because the present Israeli government has no interest in a real two-state solution. Halting military aid to Israel would be a great start, of course, rather than resupplying Israel’s military with ammunition, as we shamefully did this week.

More recently, Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia and a former adviser to the Palestinians, writing for The New Yorker called attention to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement at a press conference in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu said:

“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Khalidi concludes that:

What is going on in Palestine today is not really about Hamas. It is not about rockets. It is not about “human shields” or terrorism or tunnels. It is about Israel’s permanent control over Palestinian land and Palestinian lives. That is what Netanyahu is really saying, and that is what he now admits he has “always” talked about. It is about an unswerving, decades-long Israeli policy of denying Palestine self-determination, freedom and sovereignty.

What Israel is doing in Gaza now is collective punishment. It is punishment for Gaza’s refusal to be a docile ghetto. It is punishment for the gall of Palestinians in unifying, and of Hamas and other factions in responding to Israel’s siege and its provocations with resistance, armed or otherwise, after Israel repeatedly reacted to unarmed protest with crushing force….

As Netanyahu’s own words show, … Israel will accept nothing short of the acquiescence of Palestinians to their own subordination. It will accept only a Palestinian “state” that is stripped of all the attributes of a real state: control over security, borders, airspace, maritime limits, contiguity, and, therefore, sovereignty. The twenty-three-year charade of the “peace process” has shown that this is all Israel is offering, with the full approval of Washington. Whenever the Palestinians have resisted that pathetic fate (as any nation would), Israel has punished them for their insolence.

On a more optimistic note, William Saletan sees promise in a plan to demilitarize Gaza in exchange for $50 billion in international aid. That’s 30 times Gaza’s gross domestic product. The demilitarization would be monitored by neutral observers. Whether either side would accept a plan like that is an excellent question.

My own conclusion is that Israel is reasonably satisfied with the status quo, even though it occasionally requires “mowing the grass” in Gaza, as Israeli pundits and officials often put it. The Israelis occasionally provoke a violent response from somebody in Gaza, as they did this time by conducting an extremely aggressive search for those kidnappers, and then use that violent response as justification for open warfare, all the while claiming self-defense.

Israel has occupied Gaza for close to 50 years, and so long as American politicians support the status quo, the situation in Gaza probably won’t change very much. Meanwhile, the Palestinians of the West Bank, who met Israel’s demands to renounce violence and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, will continue to lose ground to Israeli settlers. For a startling look at how many Israeli settlements have been built in the West Bank on land that once belonged to the Palestinians, you can visit this page operated by Americans for Peace Now.

Peace out, as they say.

Israel and Gaza as Represented by Several Petitions and Two Emails

Seventy or so Israeli academics have signed a petition calling on their government to end its aggressive military strategy in Gaza. The text:

The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.

I’m not an Israeli or an academic, so I can’t sign it. I assume you can’t either. But that “We the People” site run by the White House has some relevant petitions, like these:

Push for a ceasefire in the Gaza/Palestine conflict and stop providing military aid to Israel with our tax dollars has about 6,500 signatures.


The leading petition, however, is Condemn the Apartheid State of Israel for their Human Rights Violations against the Palestinian peoples, which has more than 127,000.

On the other side of the issue, the leader is support Israel unconditionally in whatever it needs to do to stop Hamas’ terrorism. It has the right to defend itself. It has 2,241 signatures. I doubt that the signers would agree that there is a distinction between what Israel needs to do and what Israel is doing. 

Meanwhile, back in Israel, Haaretz reports on a strange incident involving another Israeli academic:

Prof. Hanoch Sheinman [sent an email] to reassure his second-year law students that because the security situation had disrupted many students’ routines, there would be an additional date scheduled for his course’s final exam. Sheinman opened the email, however, by saying that he hoped the message “finds you in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during, or as a direct result of, the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs.” Sheinman then proceeded to inform the students of the additional testing date.

 This is what happened next:

The dean of the law faculty, Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, … issued an urgent message to the students…. “I was shocked to learn of the email sent to you by Professor Sheinman,” Lifshitz wrote. “It was a hurtful letter, and since this morning we have been justifiably flooded with messages from students and family members, many of whom are involved during these very days in the battles in the south.”

Lifshitz added, “Both the content and the style of the letter contravene the values of the university and the law faculty. The faculty champions the values of pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of expression, but the inclusion of positions as were included in the administrative message sent by Prof. Sheinman to the students on a matter relating to exams does not fit into the framework of academic freedom or freedom of personal expression in any acceptable sense. This constitutes the inappropriate use of the power given to a lecturer to exploit the platform given to him as a law teacher to convey messages reflecting his positions, in a way that, as noted, seriously offended the students and their families.”

I can understand why some were offended by a reference to this conflict’s many victims, since more than 90% of the victims have been Palestinians. But I can’t understand at all why anyone would consider an expression of sympathy for those victims to be “hurtful” – unless it’s hurtful to remind people of what their government is doing in their name.

Trying to Understand Hamas, Part 2

The New York Times published an article on Sunday called “Despite Gains, Hamas Sees a Fight for Its Existence and Presses Ahead”. I read it in an effort to understand Hamas’ motivations, given the likelihood that attacking Israelis – justified or not – will always result in greater injury to Palestinians. The first Palestinian quoted is a professor of political science at a university in East Jersualem. He thinks Hamas is acting in order to achieve some concrete benefits for the Gaza Strip, most importantly an end to the trade and travel restrictions imposed by Israel. Presumably referring to Hamas’ relatively minor military achievements, the professor says:

All these achievements of Hamas, if they strike a deal without achieving something for the people of Gaza, they will lose everything and will bury themselves….It’s a very critical moment; Hamas is to be or not to be. If they don’t reach what they promised to reach, it will be like a balloon, just punctured.

Everyone seems to agree that Hamas’ overall position has weakened in recent years. In the words of the Times reporter:

Politically isolated after breaks with Syria, Iran and especially Egypt, and its effort at reconciling with the Palestinian factions that rule the West Bank having failed to bear fruit, Hamas has all but given up on governing Gaza to focus on the battlefield…In Gaza, where many see violence as the only language that works. 

Though weary of war, many Gazans see the so-called resistance as the only possible path to pressing Israel and Egypt to open border crossings, and to ending Israel’s “siege” on imports and exports and naval “blockade.” Hamas and its backers in Qatar and Turkey have also been calling for a seaport and airport in the coastal enclave.

Two other Palestinians are then quoted. According to a former Hamas official:

The only option left for us was to defend ourselves and to make Israel bleed the way that we have been bleeding all these years. It is not acceptable to go back to a situation where we are being squeezed to death and where the whole society is being paralyzed.

A plumber shopping for vegetables is said to echo the feelings of other residents that “life is so miserable” in Gaza that they are “willing to suffer the high costs of war” if it can bring change:

We want a cease-fire, of course, but it has to be based on the demands of the resistance. If they refuse to open the crossings, then we’ll all become martyrs, God willing.

Finally, a political analyst based in Jordan, is quoted:

When Israel started attacking the Gaza Strip, Hamas saw an opportunity not only to stand up to Israel but to seek to resolve … broader issues. This conflict for them is a struggle to lift the blockade of Gaza more than anything else.

Assuming the statements of the three Palestinians and the Jordanian analyst are representative of Hamas’ thinking, Hamas’ actions don’t seem so mysterious.

From all accounts, Gaza is a hellhole: almost 2 million people (13,000 per square mile) living in the desert, with 50% unemployment, heavy restrictions on travel, imports and exports, widespread malnutrition, a contaminated water supply and a spotty electrical system (made even worse today by Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s only power plant). Attacking the country they view as their tormentors may not be the best solution, but it doesn’t seem crazy either. (I recommended non-violent resistance in an earlier post, but I’m not sure how feasible that is for people in an enclave like Gaza.)

The Times article also quotes three Israelis, giving one of them the last word on the subject.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is quoted as calling for the demilitarization of Gaza, including enforcement of that demilitarization by international authorities (a view some in Hamas would consider unilateral disarmament). A former chief of Israeli military intelligence is skeptical: “This is their ideology, this is what they believe in; it’s the resistance. To ask Hamas to demilitarize Gaza is like asking a priest to convert to Judaism”. Or to ask a rabbi to convert to Islam? (By the way, this is the same former officer who wrote an op-ed column for the Times a couple days earlier calling for the destruction of Hamas: “Israel has every right to intensify its campaign until Hamas’s leaders agree to a cease-fire”. Or until they’re all dead?)

An Israeli political scientist is also quoted:

The way to understand the Hamas decision-making calculus is not by Western perspective but by their own perspective. Hamas, the leadership does not care so much about the civilian casualties; what he looks at is the military balance. They think they can gain more. They do not feel pressure as much as we perceive.

These last remarks are especially problematic. The speaker contrasts a “Western” perspective, presumably held by reasonable people like Israelis and Americans, according to which life is precious, with a foreign perspective that we probably shouldn’t even bother to understand. That’s the perspective that was frequently attributed to the American Indians, the Japanese in World War 2, and the Viet Cong. What it boils down to is the idea that our enemies are somehow less than human. That, of course, makes it more palatable to kill them in large numbers.

But in light of the massacre that’s occurring in the Gaza Strip (some 1200 Palestinians killed so far, mostly civilians, vs. 53 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians), which side in this conflict is behaving as if life is precious? Not Israeli or Palestinian life, but human life in general?

It isn’t good enough to insist that “they started it”.

Update from the NY Times:

Israel’s aerial assaults on targets in Gaza broadened on Tuesday, with barrages that destroyed Hamas’s media offices, the home of a top leader and what Palestinians said was a devastating hit on the only electricity plant, plunging the enclave of 1.7 million into deeper deprivation with no power, running water or sewage treatment.

The shutdown of the power plant … threatened to turn the situation in Gaza into a major humanitarian crisis. The facility powers water and sewage systems as well as hospitals, and it had been Gaza’s main source of electricity in recent days after eight of 10 lines that run from Israel were damaged.

“Today there is no electricity in Gaza,” said Jamal Dardasawi of Gaza’s electricity distribution company, noting that the power supplied by Egypt is not even enough for the southern city of Rafah. Rafiq Maliha, director of Gaza’s power plant, said it would probably take “months or a year” to repair it. Mr. Maliha said the shells had hit the main fuel tank, the fuel-treatment facility and two turbines.