May 20, 2021. According to various reports, the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) workers’ union has said workers will not repair power lines to Gaza that were damaged during the recent escalation “until the boys are returned,” referring to two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held in Gaza. Gisha reiterates that Israel must obey international and Israeli law and protect the rights of Gaza’s residents living under Israeli occupation at all times, including during hostilities. The workers’ attempt to condition repairs to Gaza’s power grid is aimed at punishing Gaza’s civilian population for actions over which it has no control, and as such, it is unacceptable and immoral.

Gaza’s two million residents, half of whom are children, rely on the supply of electricity from Israel, which was severely impaired at the onset of hostilities that began on May 10. In the days since, about half of the ten direct lines delivering electricity purchased by Gaza from Israel have been put out of commission due to rocket fire and bombing. The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, responsible for managing power supply inside Gaza, has called on Israel to repair damage to the lines within Israel. Supply from Gaza’s other central source of electricity, its sole power plant, has also decreased given Israel’s closing of Kerem Shalom on May 11, an unlawful step that prevented entry of fuel for the power plant. Fuel shortages also impair generators that are being pushed to the limits of their capacity in order to keep desalination and sewage treatment facilities, as well as hospitals, running.

The power supply available to Gaza’s population has dropped to about 95 megawatts (MW), less than a quarter of actual demand (400 MW) and enough for no more than 4-6 hours of electricity per 24-hour period. Some parts of the Strip have no power at all. The acute shortage harms Gaza’s civilian infrastructure – including the health care system, water and sewage systems, and dozens of UNRWA schools used to shelter tens of thousands of people who were uprooted from their homes during the military operation.

The restrictions Israel has imposed on Gaza for years in a sustained effort to isolate it and apply pressure on the civilian population have had a debilitating impact on Gaza’s health care system, its economy and its infrastructure, severely eroding living conditions for its residents, in violation of basic rights. This is an ongoing breach of Israel’s obligations under international law to facilitate normal living conditions for Gaza residents, who live under ongoing Israeli occupation. In 2008, Israel pledged to its High Court of Justice that it would maintain the power supply to Gaza at a level that precludes a humanitarian catastrophe. This catastrophe is happening right now.

Israel must immediately repair the damaged grid in its own territory, allow the immediate transit of all necessary supplies for repairs in the Strip, and refrain from causing further harm to Gaza residents. Indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian factions toward civilian population centers in Israel and on civilian infrastructure needed to supply power to Gaza violate international law, but this in no way detracts from Israel’s legal duties towards Palestinians in Gaza.