State provides statistics to prove sanctions won't cause humanitarian crisis in Gaza Strip

Even after the cutbacks in diesel and gasoline exports that Israel has recently imposed on the Gaza Strip, there is still a weekly surplus of 400,000 liters of diesel and 224,600 liters of gasoline above and beyond the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian civilian population, the state told the High Court of Justice earlier this week. The information was provided by Col. Shlomi Mukhtar, an officer in the operations branch of the office of the Coordinator of Activities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It came in response to a petition filed by two Gaza residents and 10 human rights organizations on October 28. The petitioners called on the High Court to order the government to cancel the sanctions it imposed on the Gaza Strip after declaring it a "hostile territory" on September 19. They charged that the cut constituted indiscriminate collective punishment and that the reductions could threaten hospitals, the sewage system, refrigerators containing food and medicines, home-based medical equipment and humanitarian items. On October 25, further to the previous month's declaration, the government announced it would reduce Israeli exports of electricity and fuel to Gaza without harming the area's humanitarian needs. Although it is still deliberating with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz about the electricity cuts, it has already reduced the supply of diesel by 200,000 liters per week, from 1.4 million to 1.2 million, and gasoline from 350,000-400,000 liters to 300,000 liters per week. In its first reply to the petition, the state said that according to government estimates, the amount of diesel and gasoline necessary to provide for all of Gaza's humanitarian needs was only 50 percent of its total weekly supply before the sanctions went into effect. But the court ordered the state to provide more detailed figures to back up its contention and gave it seven days to do so. In his response, Mukhtar estimated the specific fuel requirements for all the humanitarian functions in Gaza, such as ambulances, water pumps, hospitals, health clinics, schools, fishing boats, sewage treatment, and food production. For example, he wrote that in September 2005 there were 220 ambulances in the Gaza Strip. Now, he assumed, there were 400, of which 90% ran on diesel and 10% on gasoline. The ambulances running on diesel used up 117 liters of fuel each per week, while those using gasoline consumed 175 liters in a week, he wrote. Altogether, ambulances use 41,120 liters of diesel and 7,000 liters of gasoline each week. He made the same calculation for all the other items in the list of humanitarian functions. Meanwhile, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, issued a statement charging that Mukhtar had provided incorrect data and that the harm caused to the civilian population of Gaza constituted a war crime. In a related development, two Gaza flower-growers and an Israeli nursery which exports carnations petitioned the High Court of Justice against a new policy introduced recently by the government prohibiting the export of flowers from the Gaza Strip abroad. The ban is one of the elements in the sanctions that Israel has imposed on Gaza since declaring it a "hostile territory." The petitioners are represented by Itay Weissman of the Arnon Segev and Co. Law Offices in Tel Aviv. Human Rights Watch charged on Tuesday that Israel is arbitrarily blocking about 670 students from Gaza from pursuing higher education abroad. It charged that Israel is denying exit permits for students enrolled in universities in Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Britain and the US. Israel had declared that as part of its measures against Gaza it would cut down on the number of Palestinians allowed to leave the Gaza Strip.