In response to the 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."

Wed., January 30, 2008 –  Israel’s Supreme Court today rejected a petition by 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 claimed that cutting fuel and electricity supplies constitutes forbidden collective punishment and violates the international law prohibition 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, beginning February 7. 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 Sunday, Jan. 27, Israel’s military prevented utility officials from Gaza from attending the hearing, in violation of a previous commitment to the court. The state attorneys 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 Jabarin, 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.”

Background on the Fuel and Electricity Petition

The court decision comes at a time when the Gaza Strip is already suffering from a 20% deficit in electricity, during the winter peak season – even before the February 7 cuts go into effect.

During the winter, the demand for electricity in the Gaza Strip is approximately 240 mega-watts, depending on the weather, but as of today, Gaza has just 192 megawatts from all sources: 120 mega-watts sold by Israel; 17 megawatts supplied by Egypt; and 55 megawatts from. Gaza’s power plant. Gaza’s power plant is able to produce 80 megawatts, but 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.

The petition was submitted October 28, 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 prevented Israel from cutting supplies of electricity sold to Gaza by Israel’s Electric Company. Today’s decision allows the direct electricity cuts to be implemented on February 7.

The organizations who petitioned the court are:

Adalah – The LegalCenter for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
Gisha – LegalCenter 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 IsraeliInformationCenter for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Al –Haq
MezanCenter for Human Rights

Maher Najjar, Deputy Director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and a farmer from Beit Hanoun also joined the petition.