Israel’s “Relief”: Fuel Cuts of Up to 81%, New Electricity Cuts Beginning February 7

Sun., January 27, 2008 – After more than a week of near-total ban on fuel supplies, Israel said today that it would resume permitting Gaza residents to purchase fuel – but would limit the amount they could buy by as much as 81% and would cut the electricity supplied directly to Gaza beginning February 7.

The state made the announcement in advance of today’s hearing in Israel’s Supreme Court, as part of its response to a court petition filed by 10 Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups challenging punitive cuts in fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza residents. The court has yet to issue a decision.

After almost totally blocking fuel supply last week, Israel through the State Attorney’s Office told the court it would resume permitting Gaza residents to purchase diesel, petrol (gasoline) and industrial diesel but would only allow them a small percentage of what they need. The State Attorney’s office also told the court that it would reduce the electricity that Israel’s Electric Company sells directly to Gaza by 5% on three lines (a total of 1.5 MW), beginning February 7.

At the hearing, the human rights groups, represented by Gisha and Adalah, asked for an order preventing the state from restricting supply. The rights groups claim that the fuel and electricity cuts constitute illegal collective punishment.

The shortage of industrial diesel has crippled the functioning of Gaza’s power plant, whose reserves ran out on Jan. 5. Since then, the plant reduced production and even shut down for two days. Currently, the power plant is producing 45 MW electricity – instead of the 80 MW it could produce, were it allowed enough industrial diesel.

Gaza currently has an electricity deficit of 24%, and rolling blackouts across the Strip are as long as 12 hours per day in some areas. The electricity shortage has increased the dependence on diesel-powered generators – just as Israel cut diesel supplies. Without electricity and without diesel for back-up generators, Gaza’s sewage treatment pumps and treatment plants are pumping as much as 40 million liters untreated sewage into the sea each day, and clean water supply has fallen by 30%. Hospitals have reduced services and denied care to non-urgent cases, as the power outages continue, and their fuel supplies run dangerously low.

According to Gisha’s Director, Sari Bashi: "Israel’s ‘relief’ is just further punishment. Israel continues to deny Gaza residents the fuel and electricity they need to power hospitals, pump sewage, access clean water, and heat their homes. Israel has a right to defend itself against Qassam rocket fire targeting its civilians. But further cuts to Gaza’s electricity, as Israel plans, will only make more innocent people suffer."

Facts about Israel’s fuel cuts to Gaza:

Israel began instituting fuel cuts to Gaza on October 28, 2007, as part of a governmental decision calling for punitive measures against Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. The new levels of fuel announced today are significantly lower than the quantities being purchased by Gaza residents prior to the Oct. 28, 2007 cuts – and significantly lower than what they need now.

Before the cuts, Gaza residents were ordering approximately 1.4 million liters ordinary diesel per week – today the state announced it would allow only 800,000 liters/week – a reduction of 43%. This is particularly detrimental, because the rolling power outages have increased dependency on diesel-powered generators.

Before the cuts, Gaza residents were ordering approximately 350,000-400,000 liters petrol (gasoline) per week – today Israel announced it would allow only 75,400 liters – a reduction of 78%-81%.

Israel also announced it would allow Gaza residents to purchase 2.2 million liters industrial diesel/week, needed for Gaza’s power plant, but the plant now needs 3.5 million liters/week plus at least 2 million additional liters to replenish reserves.

Gaza needs 240 MW electricity in the current peak winter season. Israel supplies (before the planned cut) 120 MW, Egypt supplies 17 MW, and Gaza’s power plant is currently producing only 45 MW – meaning that there is a deficit of 58 MW, or 24% – even before the February 7 cuts are scheduled to take place.

The organizations who have petitioned the 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
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
Mezan Center for Human Rights