High Court postpones Gaza electricity cuts

But rules Gaza fuel cuts can continue since supply sufficient for humanitarian needs.

gaza fuel 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza fuel 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The government will not cut the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip on Sunday as planned because of a High Court of Justice decision issued Friday, postponing the plan by at least three weeks. At the same time, however, the court gave its seal of approval to the government's action of reducing diesel and gasoline supplies to Gaza by 15 percent. The step was initiated on October 28. The two High Court decisions came in response to a petition filed by two Palestinians from Gaza, including Maher Najjar, the Deputy Director of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, and 10 human rights organizations. The petitioners charged that the sanctions constituted collective punishment, which was against international law. They also charged that they would create severe humanitarian problems such as endangering "the functioning of the hospitals, the water and sewage systems, home medical equipment, refrigeration of food and medicine and other vital systems necessary to safeguard the health of the population." The state informed the court that the cut in fuel, which is paid for the European Union and supplied by the Israeli Dor Oil Company, would only amount to 15 percent, leaving the Gaza population with more than they required for humanitarian needs. As for electricity, the state said it intended to reduce electricity along only four of the 10 main power lines to Gaza and that the total cut would amount to only five percent. On November 7, the court rejected the petitioners' request for an interim injunction that would have prevented the state from cutting the fuel supplies until the court ruled on the full arguments of the case. It did not discuss the planned electricity cuts because the state had not yet been ready implement them. However, since then, the state announced it would implement the electricity cuts on Sunday, December 2. Thus, on November 29, the court reconvened for an urgent hearing on the petitioners' demands to suspend the electricity cuts and a further discussion of the fuel cuts. During the hearing the petitioners argued that the fuel cuts had already caused severe humanitarian problems. Attorney Sari Bashi, representing Gisha, one of the petitioning human rights groups, explained that there was already an electricity shortage in Gaza because of an attack on Gaza's power turbines in the summer of 2006. As a result, the area was more dependent on local generators which were powered by fuel. Fuel was also used for water pumps and sewage operations. "Until the fuel cuts on October 28, there was no problem with water in Gaza," said Bashi. But Beinisch replied that fuel, unlike electricity, could be distributed according to priorities if the distributors were willing to do so. Therefore, there need not be a humanitarian crisis over the 15 percent cut as long as the distributors were willing to sell it first of all to those providing humanitarian services. As for electricity, Bashi argued that there was already a shortage which caused the Gaza authorities to conduct planned power cuts. Furthermore, electricity cuts were indiscriminate and could not help but affect vital installations such as hospitals. Col. Shlomi Mukhtar, an officer in the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, told the court he had met with the deputy head of the Gaza Energy Authority and the latter had not complained about the situation. The deputy head also informed Mukhtar that Egypt was about to send another electricity turbine to Gaza to make up for one destroyed by the Israel Air Force. Furthermore, Idan Weinstock, head of the Electricity Authority in the Ministry of National Infrastructure, told the court there were ways to direct electricity on main power lines so that it could feed specific targets such as hospitals. The court ordered the state to suspend its plan to reduce the electricity supply to Gaza on Sunday, and gave it 12 days to answer questions regarding the testimony of Mukhtar and Weinstock, and to provide more information regarding the four main power lines regarding which it intended to reduce electricity supplies. It gave the petitioners another seven days to respond.