August 31, 2020. Over the last weeks, against the backdrop of an outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic among the general population in the Gaza Strip, Israel has imposed a series of measures that deliberately harm residents of the Strip and stand in violation of Israel’s obligations under both Israeli and international law. Five human rights organizations – Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, HaMoked, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel – submitted an urgent petition (Hebrew) to Israel’s High Court, demanding that Israel reverse all restrictions, including on entry of fuel and other goods through Kerem Shalom Crossing, a vital lifeline for Gaza’s two million residents.

Since August 11, Israel has barred entry of construction materials to Gaza and since August 13, it has banned entry of fuel, including for Gaza’s power plant. As a result, on August 18, the plant shut down, leading to a further reduction in the overall supply of electricity, which has been available to residents for about four hours a day. Since August 16, Israel has also imposed a full maritime closure, and since August 23, it has limited entry of goods to food and medicine only. These measures cause grave harm to Gaza’s residents, its economy, healthcare system and other essential civilian infrastructure.

The petition includes affidavits attesting to the profound harm to Gaza’s residents, particularly as a result of the electricity crisis. A physician specializing in pediatric care from Shifa Hospital warns of a rise in infant mortality if the supply of electricity becomes insufficient for operating ventilators, infusion pumps, and other essential equipment. An affidavit by an official at the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility indicates that the continued ban on access to fuel is likely to impair the functioning of water and sewage treatment facilities and preclude sewage disposal, which could lead to flooding and increase the flow of untreated sewage to the sea, putting the environment and public health at risk.

Even the recent discovery of community transmission of the coronavirus in Gaza has not prompted Israel to reverse its punitive measures. In the petition, the organizations emphasize: “Particularly at this moment of pandemic outbreak, when all indications are of an aggravation of existing humanitarian concerns, there is growing fear of further harm to Gaza’s healthcare system and food security. Despite the obvious hardship, the respondents [Israel’s defense minister and the Israeli military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] chose to implement additional steps that cause deliberate harm to the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, knowing full well the implications of their decisions and their consequences for Gaza residents.”

The implementation of punitive measures, in contravention of international law and previous High Court rulings, reflects Israel’s disregard for its obligation to facilitate normal living conditions in Gaza and to protect residents’ basic rights. Israel must immediately restore uninterrupted access to fuel at Kerem Shalom, reverse all restrictions on entry of goods, and remove the maritime closure. 

To read the petition (Hebrew), see here.