State must show data on power cuts

Court orders government to explain how reducing electricity, fuel won't cause humanitarian crisis.

powerout gaza 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
powerout gaza 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday gave the state one week to present data backing up its assertion that the newest sanctions against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will not cause unreasonable damage to Gaza residents. The justices also demanded that the state demonstrate how it will ensure, on an ongoing basis, that the electric cuts do not harm the civilian population. On Friday, the state argued that a petition to the court regarding the planned power cuts, submitted by a coalition of 10 Palestinian and Israeli NGOs in cooperation with the deputy director of the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility and a farmer from Beit Hanun in northern Gaza, was premature since the government had not yet acted to reduce the supply of Israeli electricity to the Strip. Although such cuts in response to Kassam rocket attacks had already been approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz temporarily overruled the decision, arguing that the impact on the humanitarian situation in Gaza have not been fully calculated. The petition had asked the High Court to prevent reductions in electricity and fuel supplies to the Strip and to cancel the security cabinet's September 19 decision to impose the sanctions. The petitioners argued that the decision to disrupt electricity and fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip was clearly illegal and that its implementation would endanger innocent civilians. "In case the generators cease to operate due to an internal malfunction or lack of fuel, the outcome will be a humanitarian disaster," said Jamil Muhammad Sliman Ali, director of the public hospital in Beit Hanun. "For example, if an electrical blackout occurs while performing an abdominal operation on a patient, and the generator does not operate - the surgeon has only half an hour to finish the operation, which jeopardizes the life of the patient." The petition argued that the sanctions could not be considered merely an "economic boycott" because Israel controls Gaza's borders and prevents others from supplying fuel and electricity. In a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee session on Tuesday, it was argued that this was not entirely true, as parts of Rafah, for instance, are provided with electricity by Egypt. State Prosecution representative attorney Dana Briskman said Wednesday that Mazuz had not ruled out cutting off some Israeli electricity to the Gaza Strip, and suggested that, for example, a 15 percent fuel supply cut would not generate a humanitarian crisis. But Prof. Kenneth Mann of Gisha - the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, and attorney Fatmeh El-Ajou of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told the court, "It is impossible to monitor the supplies in Gaza, reduce the quantity of fuels entering the Strip and to 'only put pressure on' vital systems without damaging them."