Israel’s Supreme Court Requests Delay in Implementing Sunday’s Planned Electricity Cuts to Gaza; Declines to Intervene in Fuel Cuts

Gisha: We welcome the decision and expect that the court will ultimately prevent the military from cutting electricity; we are extremely concerned about the continued fuel cuts, which constitute illegal collective punishment.

Fri., November 30, 2007 –  In a decision issued this morning, Israel’s Supreme Court asked the military to delay planned cuts in electricity supply to Gaza and ordered it to submit information to back its claim that the planned cuts will not harm vital systems such as hospitals and water supply.

However, the court declined to intervene, at this stage, in the fuel cuts, which have been in effect since October 28.

"We presume that until receipt of the required supplements and necessary clarifications, the plan to restrict the supply of electricity to Gaza will not be implemented," the court wrote. The military had planned to implement the electricity reductions beginning Sunday, Dec. 2.

The human rights groups petitioning argued that the reductions in electricity will unavoidably and certainly cause power outages in hospitals, sewage treatment plants, water pumps, and other vital systems, and they submitted affidavits from utility officials in Gaza showing that there is no physical way to reduce electricity supplies without causing power outages to hospitals, water pumps, and other vital services. The military argued that the electricity cuts would not harm vital services. In today’s decision, the court asked the military to provide additional information to back that claim.

According to the petitioners, all cuts in fuel and electricity supplies constitute illegal collective punishment. Gaza’s civilians have no way to defend themselves against the disruptions in vital humanitarian services, because they can receive fuel and essential goods only via Israel, which controls Gaza’s borders – land, air and sea. Gaza is dependent on Israel for 63% of its electricity.

Maher Najjar, Deputy Director of Gaza’s Coastal Waters Municipalities Utility, who joined the petition, attended a court hearing held yesterday and told the judges that the fuel reductions have already infringed on the functioning of Gaza’s water system, interrupting water supply to tens of thousands of residents. The petitions argued that international law absolutely forbids disrupting humanitarian services such as access to water and medical care.

In contrast to the state’s argument, that it is preserving a "humanitarian minimum", the petitioners argued that international law does not recognize a humanitarian minimum to which one may deliberately reduce the civilian population. Any deliberate harm to humanitarian services is illegal.

In today’s decision, the court declined to address the parties’ arguments regarding the legal status of Gaza and the question of Israel’s obligations to Gaza residents under the law of occupation.

According to Gisha’s Legal Adviser, Kenneth Mann: “We welcome the court’s decision to delay the electricity cut and expect that it will ultimately ban it as illegal. We are extremely concerned about the continuing fuel cuts, which have already disrupted water supply to tens of thousands of Gazans. Gaza residents have no way to receive fuel, electricity, or other goods except via Israel, which controls its borders. Deliberately restricting supply to the entire civilian population constitutes collective punishment.”

According to Gisha’s Director, Sari Bashi: “In failing to address our legal arguments regarding the legal status of Gaza, the court is ignoring the increased duties owed by Israel, under the law of occupation, because of Israel’s continuing control over Gaza."

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 Mezan Center for Human Rights