31 January 2008
In response to Supreme Court’s Rejection of Petition against Fuel and Electricity Cuts:
Gisha and Adalah: “This decision sets a dangerous legal precedent that allows Israel to continue to violate the rights of Palestinians in Gaza and deprive them of basic humanitarian needs, in violation of international law.”
On 30 January 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition by ten Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations to stop Israel from cutting supplies of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip, as part of a governmental decision authorizing punitive measures against the population of Gaza. The petitioners had argued that cutting fuel and electricity supplies constitutes forbidden collective punishment and violates the prohibition in international law against deliberately targeting civilians. The fuel cuts, which have forced Gaza’s only power plant to reduce production of electricity, have severely disrupted the functioning of vital humanitarian services, including hospitals, water wells, and sewage pumps.
The court’s decision allows the state to proceed with its plan to cut electricity sold to Gaza directly by Israel’s Electric Company from 7 February 2008. Gaza is already experiencing a 20% electricity deficit, which is forcing rolling blackouts in hospitals and other vital humanitarian institutions. The petitioners submitted extensive documentation showing that cuts in supplies of electricity and the industrial diesel needed to produce electricity will necessarily mean longer and more frequent power outages across Gaza, from which vital humanitarian institutions will not be spared.
At the last hearing held on Sunday, 27 January 2008, utility officials from Gaza were prevented from attending the hearing, in violation of the state’s commitment to the court. The state offered oral testimony by a military official, unsubstantiated by affidavit as required, claiming that the cuts would not harm humanitarian needs.
According to Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha: “This is an unprecedented decision authorizing collective punishment in its most blatant form. The court ruling relies on unsubstantiated declarations by the military and ignores the indisputable and well-documented evidence of harm to civilians caused by the fuel and electricity cuts – with no legally valid justification.”
According to Hassan Jabareen, General Director of Adalah: “According to the Supreme Court’s decision, it is permitted to harm Palestinian civilians and create a humanitarian crisis for political reasons. This constitutes a war crime under international criminal law.”
Currently, the Gaza Strip is suffering from a 20% deficit in electricity. During the winter, the demand for electricity in the Gaza Strip is approximately 240 mega-watts or more per day, depending on the weather. Currently, Gaza is receiving 120 mega-watts sold by Israel and 17 megawatts supplied by Egypt to Rafah. Gaza’s power plant is able to produce 80 megawatts per day, but the restrictions imposed on the supply of industrial diesel sold to Gaza limits the power plant to generating just 55 megawatts. As a result, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) is unable to provide the electricity needed to operate hospitals, water pumps and schools, and so institutes rolling blackouts across main lines. Some humanitarian institutions have back-up generators, but the restrictions on the supply of diesel have disrupted the operation of the generators, too.
Israel controls Gaza’s borders and does not allow Gazans to purchase fuel except via Israeli-controlled crossings.
The petition was submitted on 28 October 2007, the day that Israel cut supplies of petrol (benzene), diesel, and industrial diesel to Gaza. Residents of Gaza purchase fuel from an Israeli company and receive it via Israeli-controlled crossings.
A prior decision of the Supreme Court temporarily prevented Israel from cutting supplies of electricity sold to Gaza by Israel’s Electric Company. Today’s court decision allows the direct electricity cuts to be implemented on 7 February 2008.
The organizations which petitioned the Supreme Court are: 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-Gaza, 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, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.