NGOs urge court to halt Gaza fuel ban, UN warns of COVID-19 spike

Israel barred the passage of fuel and all but humanitarian items into Gaza in response to continued rocket attacks.

A fuel tanker leaves the Gaza power plant in the central Gaza Strip August 26, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
A fuel tanker leaves the Gaza power plant in the central Gaza Strip August 26, 2019
Five Israeli nongovernmental groups have petitioned the High Court of Justice to force Israel to rescind its Gaza fuel ban, as the United Nations warns that its absence has exacerbated the COVID-19 crisis.
“Marking a significant deterioration in the health situation, on August 24, the first cases of COVID-19 outside the quarantine facilities were confirmed,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick. “Thus far, there are 280 known active cases, 243 of which are from community transmission.”
The situation is made worse by Israel’s decision to ban fuel, necessary for the production of electricity, a utility that is vital to Gaza hospitals for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, McGoldrick explained. The absence of electricity is also harming Gaza’s water supply. At the present, Palestinians in Gaza have electricity for only three hours a day.
Israel has barred the passage of fuel since August 13, and all but humanitarian items into Gaza through its main commercial passage at Kerem Shalom on August 11, in response to continued rocket attacks. It also closed the Mediterranean to all Gaza fishermen.
This would be a “difficult situation at any point,” said McGoldrick, but it is “especially serious given efforts to contain the outbreak of COVID-19.”
The absence of electricity has hindered services to the COVID-19 quarantine facilities and harmed “the capacity of the health system to cope with the increased demands, such as the ability to detect new COVID-19 cases,” McGoldrick said. “Power outages in hospitals are having serious repercussions, with patients in intensive care, chronic and emergency cases particularly vulnerable.”
In addition, he said, the lack of electricity has harmed other utilities, including the operation of “water wells, sewage pumping stations, wastewater treatment plants, and some desalination plants.”
“The supply of clean water and wastewater treatment is impacted,” McGoldrick said. “There is now a high risk of sewage flooding populated areas, increased pollution into the Mediterranean Sea and along the coast, and further pollution to the aquifer.”
The five NGOs mentioned all these issues in their petition to the HCJ, filed by 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.
They charged that Israel has an obligation under international law and its own administrative rules of the territory to provide the fuel.
“Israel must immediately restore uninterrupted access to fuel at Kerem Shalom,” the NGOs said. “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.”
McGoldrick in his statement called on Israel to resume fuel shipments and on Hamas to halt its violence against Israel.
“All parties must show utmost restraint and act to protect civilians, with full respect for their dignity and human rights,” he said.