8 November 2007

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel * Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement * HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual * Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
* The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights * The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel * Gaza Community Mental Health Programme * B'Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories * Al-Haq * Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

At Hearing on Petition Filed by Adalah and Gisha on behalf of 10 Human Rights Organizations, Supreme Court Orders State to Present Data to Substantiate Claim that Cutting Electricity and Fuel Supplies to Gaza will not Harm Civilians

On 7 November 2007, the Supreme Court of Israel held a hearing on a petition filed by ten Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations demanding that the Israeli government be prevented from implementing its decision to impose collective punishment on the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. At the hearing, the Supreme Court ordered the state to present it with data to substantiate the accuracy of its claim that cutting fuel and electricity supplies will have only a slight effect on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and to detail in its response the means it will use to monitor the humanitarian situation and check the facts on the ground.

At the hearing, Professor Kenneth Mann from the Gisha organization and Adalah Attorney Fatmeh El-‘Ajou argued that, “Stockpiles of fuel in Gaza cannot be monitored and the volume of fuel and diesel supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip cannot be cut and ‘merely pressurize' and not damage vital systems … Israel is deliberately and actively reducing the supplies of fuel and diesel, which directly results in damage to vital systems and the supply of clean water to the population.”

The petitioners emphasized that the decision to disrupt the supply of electricity and fuel to the Gaza Strip is illegal and endangers its civilian population. The infrastructure in Gaza has been damaged as a result of the reduction in the volume of fuel supplied; some of the pumps that provide civilians with water and extract sewage are already unable to operate because of the unavailability of diesel. Adalah's General Director, Attorney Hassan Jabareen, contended that this is “The first time that the Attorney General's Office has argued before this court that it is permissible to harm a civilian population.”

Maher Najjar, the deputy director of a water company for towns along the coast of Gaza and a petitioner, in his affidavit submitted in support of the petitioners' response a day before the hearing, stated that, “Until today … and because of the lack of fuel to pump water from the wells, the required and adequate volume of water is not reaching the home of 15% of the residents of Gaza. If the reduction of the supply of fuel continues, the percentage of the population who will not have access to clean water will increase gradually, and the wells will cease to operate … Today, there is no surplus in fuel to allow the operation of water facilities, and the volume of remaining fuel for sewage equipment is sufficient for only one week.”

Contrary to the state's claims, the petitioners argued that the implementation of this decision could cause widespread humanitarian damage. It is likely to endanger the functioning of hospitals and sewage and water services, and will interrupt the operation of medical equipment as well as vital household electrical equipment such as refrigerators, including those needed to refrigerate essential medical supplies. “The damage that will be inflicted by the disrupting of electricity and fuel supplies cannot be controlled, nor can its consequences. Deliberately obstructing the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is illegal. International law does not allow “minor” damage: It bans collective punishment entirely,” argued the petitioners.

The petitioners emphasized the dependency of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Israel for their electricity and fuel needs. “The state's claim that the population of Gaza should provide electricity for themselves is astonishing. In the decades of Israel's direct control of Gaza and until the present time, it has permitted the establishment of an electricity network with an extremely limited capacity (which can provide Gaza with just 38% of the electricity that its population needs). After implementing the ‘disengagement' from Gaza, Israel bombed the local power plant … this behavior imposes duties on Israel towards the population of the Gaza Strip in general, and in the field of electricity supply in particular.”

H.C. 9132/07, Jaber al-Basyouni Ahmed v. The Prime Minister (pending)

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