Human rights groups ask court to lift Gaza closure

Area is on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis, claims Israeli Arab organization Adalah.

Gaza dark 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Gaza dark 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Israeli Arab human rights organization Adalah on Monday called on the government to immediately allow food, medicines and humanitarian commodities into the Gaza Strip, after Israel sealed all the border crossings on Friday. Meanwhile, two Palestinian residents and 10 human rights groups asked the High Court of Justice to issue a temporary injunction prohibiting the government from preventing the export of industrial diesel fuel to Gaza. The fuel is needed to run the Gaza power station. It also asked the court to hold an immediate hearing on the matter instead of waiting for the hearing which has already been scheduled for February 3. The government ordered all the border crossings to and from the Gaza Strip sealed as of Friday as a retaliation to dozens of Kassam rockets and mortar shells fired by Hamas against Sderot and the rural communities in the Gaza periphery beginning two days earlier. "As we learn from many reports, including those of international aid agencies, the Gaza Strip is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis," Adalah attorney Fatma Alajou wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav. Alajou added that UNRWA, which feeds 850,000 of the total population of 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip, had enough flour to last only a few days more. The same holds true for the World Food Organization, which feeds 370,000 Palestinians. Meanwhile, the petitioners maintained that as a result of the halt in industrial diesel exports to the Gaza Strip, the electricity supply had fallen by 43 percent overall and 70% in Gaza City. The petitioners blasted the government for making allegedly unfulfilled promises that it would not cause a humanitarian crisis. "This commitment does not correctly reflect its obligations in accordance with international law, which completely prohibits harm to the supply of humanitarian supplies such as fuel and electricity," Alajou wrote. Quoting World Health Organization figures, the petitioners added that the hospitals in Gaza were suffering from the lack of diesel fuel to power the generators which operate during electricity blackouts, in addition to the lack of electricity due to the halt in industrial diesel. The European Hospital in Khan Yunis has declared an emergency situation and stopped treating non-emergency patients, the petitioners quoted from the WHO report. The Al-Aksa Hospital will operate only four hours a day. The Children's Hospital in Gaza has declared an emergency and is considering moving the children to other hospitals which still have diesel reserves to operate their generators. Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis has declared an emergency situation. The operating theater has ceased functioning except for the intensive care unit, the WHO report stated. Hamas has claimed that five people have died at hospitals because of the power outage. But according to AP, Palestinian health officials who insisted on remaining anonymous denied the Hamas claim. Palestinian health ministry official Moaiya Hassanain told AP that the fuel cutoff would cause a health catastrophe. "We have the choice to either cut electricity on babies in the maternity ward or heart surgery patients, or close operating rooms," he said. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel added its voice on Monday to those calling for a resumption of the full supply of fuel to Gaza, as withholding petrol "will not stop Kassam rocket attacks" on Israel. Amnesty International also called on Israel to remove the restrictions. "Palestinian patients are in the middle and should not be punished" for the attacks on Sderot and nearby villages and towns, said Miri Weingarten, coordinator of the "Occupied Territories Project" at PHR-Israel. Weingarten said she could not prove whether Hamas was intentionally diverting available fuel from the hospitals, reaping world sympathy from TV images of dark hospitals whose intensive care unit respirators are not working. Regardless, she declared, "no one can deny that Gaza has less than half the fuel for vital uses than it needs." Weingarten said there was an increase in the number of Palestinian patients whose application for treatment outside Gaza was rejected due to "security reasons." She said her organization knew of nearly 100 cases waiting to be handled for this official reason, even though "some are obviously not security problems because they are blind or very ill with cancer; one is in a coma." London-based Malcolm Smart of Amnesty International issued a statement saying: "This action appears calculated to make an already dire humanitarian situation worse, one in which the most vulnerable - the sick, the elderly, women and children - will bear the brunt, not the men of violence who carry out attacks against Israel. "The rocket attacks should cease, and immediately, but the entire population of Gaza should not be put at risk to bring this about."