High Court: Hamas to blame for Gaza fuel shortage

Beinisch tells petitioners: You are asking for more fuel which will be used against Israel.

gaza fuel 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza fuel 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Attorneys for Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, apparently failed to convince the High Court of Justice on Wednesday that the state was responsible for violating its promise to supply minimum levels of gasoline, diesel fuel and industrial diesel fuel to the Gaza Strip. The court will hand down its decision in the coming days, but during the hearing, an obviously impatient Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch summed up her view of the petitioners' arguments by saying, "You are asking to assure a reservoir of fuel for Hamas so that they can conduct a war against Israel. The additional fuel that you are asking to be supplied to the Gaza Strip will not be for the benefit of the civilian population." At another point, when attorney Sari Bashi, director-general of Gisha, maintained that international human rights organizations portrayed a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Beinisch replied, "That is a distorted picture. They don't realize it's distorted because they don't know who it is that is preventing the fuel supplies." Gisha and nine other Israeli and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations petitioned the High Court on May 13, saying that since April 9, the state was "acting illegally by preventing the orderly supply of all types of fuel to the Gaza Strip." The same groups had originally petitioned the High Court on October 28, 2007, when the cabinet imposed fuel and electricity supply cuts after declaring that Gaza was a "hostile entity." The court rejected the 2007 petition against the fuel supply cuts after the state promised it would supply 800,000 liters of diesel, 74,500 liters of gasoline and 2.2 million liters of industrial diesel per week. It maintained that this was more enough to guarantee the minimum humanitarian level in Gaza. In the new petition, Gisha and the other groups charged that over the past month, the state had failed to maintain these levels and that the humanitarian situation in Gaza had deteriorated. According to its figures, in the five weeks starting April 4, the state allowed only 60 percent of the industrial diesel level it had promised the court. As for gasoline and solar, it had allegedly prevented any supplies from reaching Gaza for almost one month, between April 9 and May 5. Bashi argued that in the first petition, the court had accepted the cuts on condition that the state maintained the minimal levels and that there would be no humanitarian harm to the civilian population of Gaza. The state charged that Hamas was responsible for the shortages to the civilian population of all three types of fuels. It told the court that the Palestinians had stopped pumping diesel and gasoline from late March until April 28 because of a strike of the Gaza Fuel Association. When the strike began, the fuel depots on the Palestinian side contained 188,000 liters of gasoline and 82,000 liters of diesel, and there was no room for any more. When the Palestinians began pumping again, Hamas took 44,000 liters of diesel and 140,000 liters of gasoline for its own purposes. Regarding the supply of industrial diesel, which is used by the Strip's sole power station to produce electricity for Gaza City, the state provided a detailed list of the amount of fuel supplied each day between April 6 and May 15. The Nahal Oz fuel terminal is open five days a week and closed on Fridays and Saturdays. During the 30 work days between April 6 and May 15, the terminal was closed all or part of the day on 18 occasions including two holidays (Pessah and Independence Day.) The rest of the closures had to do, directly or indirectly, with attacks from Gaza or security alarms. Col. Nir Press, head of the Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip, told the court that "security policy has not changed [since the beginning of April.] We review the situation every week. One year after the Hamas takeover in Gaza there is no humanitarian crisis." He said that the international humanitarian organizations that claimed there was were being taken in by the Hamas. "It is the Hamas that is harming Palestinian civilian population, certainly not us. The Hamas is shooting at the fuel depots at Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom. It is also not lacking fuel for its own vehicles." Press added that the crisis in late April, when UNWRA announced it was halting its food supply to 650,000 Gazans, was caused by a labor strike on the Gaza side of the border. After special efforts, it was agreed that 200,000 liters of diesel would be transferred across the border for the sole use of UNWRA. According to Press, the relief organization received only 55,000 liters of the supply. Hamas seized the rest. Press also said that even after the Gaza Fuel Association strike ended on April 28, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah refused to order gasoline and diesel fuel between April 30 and May 5 and between May 12 and May 15. This, explained Press, was because Hamas had blocked the transfer 30,000 liters of diesel for an international water purification project in southern Gaza. The fuel had been available since April 14, when Israel agreed to supply that amount over and above the weekly quota. Press said that while human rights groups had charged that Gaza was pumping sewage into the Mediterranean because of the fuel crisis, the fact is that it had been doing so all along. The water purification project is aimed at stopping the dumping.