In Israel’s “Humanitarian Corridor,” No Water, No Electricity, Plenty of Sewage

Nine Human Rights Groups Petition Israeli Supreme Court:

800,000 People Without Water – Israel Still Preventing Fuel and Electricity for Gaza’s Water System

· Sewage has begun spilling into the streets; risk of more as sewage pools fill to maximum.

· No fuel in water and sewage pumps – 800,000 people cut off from water supply.

· Israel deliberately drained Gaza of the industrial diesel needed to make electricity – and still won’t permit sufficient supply.

· Growing danger of spread of infectious diseases among civilians already suffering from the terrible effects of the military operation.

· Israel, as the power exercising control on the ground and over Gaza’s crossings, owes a heightened duty to ensure the needs of the civilian population.

Wed., January 7, 2009 –  Nine human rights organizations petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court today demanding that Israel stop the collapse of Gaza’s sewage and water system, a collapse caused by the military operation and by a 14-month policy of systematically blocking fuel supplies necessary to generate electricity. The groups demand that Israel’s Defense Minister ensure full supply and delivery of all forms of fuel, especially for the water system and power plant, and ensure repair of the electricity system, including by allowing spare parts into Gaza. The petitioners warned: "Additional delay … risks unnecessary and preventable destruction and even death for innocent civilians".

The petition claims that Israel’s direct control over territory in Gaza, in addition to its constant control over the crossings, amplifies its duty to ensure the needs and welfare of the civilian population: "The military’s physical control over Gaza and its access to the civilian population under its control create a heightened positive duty to take all measures to ensure the needs of the civilian population of the Strip." The petition was written by attorneys Tamar Feldman and Sari Bashi of Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

For the last two months, Israel deliberately drained Gaza of fuel, crippling the ability to generate electricity and wreaking massive damage on the functioning of vital humanitarian institutions. Israel has also prevented supply of spare parts necessary for repairs. Because Israel exercises near total control over the supply of fuel and electricity to Gaza, especially the transfer of industrial diesel via the Nahal Oz Crossing – it must ensure that the needs of civilians are met.

The groups argue that Israel should have foreseen that a broad-ranging military operation would seriously damage essential humanitarian facilities, “to the point of actual and immediate harm to the health and dignity of the residents of the Gaza Strip.” The petition maintains that “the Respondent (the Defense Minister) should have prepared for this situation and since he did not do so, he must ensure what is now lacking is immediately supplied in full.” The organizations noted that the shortage of electricity and fuel is a result of a 14-month old policy to block supply, pursuant to an Israeli Cabinet decision to impose punitive measures on the residents of Gaza: “This shortage was well known to the Respondent, since he himself deliberately created it.”
As a result of the military operation, five out of 12 electricity lines to the Gaza Strip are currently inoperable, and the power station ceased operating entirely more than a week ago due to the lack of fuel. Since Saturday, 1 million Gaza residents have been without electricity, including hospitals, water supply facilities and sewerage pumps. As of today, some 800,000 people are completely cut off from water supply. In Gaza City and the northern area, there is no water supply whatsoever. Residents have reported sanitation problems due to the lack of water for personal hygiene, cleanliness and waste removal. Because sewage pumps have stopped operating due to lack of fuel, sewage has begun to flow in the streets, into the sea and into agricultural areas. The danger of outbreaks of infection diseases among the civilian population is intensifying, particularly in the densely-populated cities and refugee camps.

Palestinian technicians have been unable to make repairs or deliver diesel for back-up generators because of the heavy fighting. Since Nov. 5, 2008, and especially since the start of the military operation on Dec. 27, Israel has allowed supply of less than 16% of the industrial diesel required by the power plant.

According to Mr. Abu Shaaban, 26, Gaza City resident, flower shop owner and father to two small children: “This is the seventh day in a row without a drop of water either in the pipes or storage containers. The kitchen is full of dishes that need to be washed and our clothes are dirty, but we have no way to wash them. I go out every day to look for water, knowing full well that I am risking my life, but I can’t find any … I have one-year-old son in diapers and no water to clean him.”

According to Gisha Director Sari Bashi: "Israel’s ‘humanitarian corridors’ will not save Gaza’s crumbling water and sewage system. This crisis is a direct result of a deliberate policy, for the past 14 months, to block fuel supply. Israel must immediately restore full fuel supply, ensure necessary repairs and delivery, and take all measures to provide electricity to Gaza’s humanitarian institutions.”

The groups petitioning the court:

Association for Civil Rights in Israel 
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel 
Rabbis for Human Rights 
Yesh Din