Nothing to see here

Israel needs to tell the truth about the decision to cut power to Gaza

A Palestinian woman washes by candlelight during a power cut in the kitchen of her home in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman washes by candlelight during a power cut in the kitchen of her home in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Thursday, July 27, in a polite and professional email, the spokesperson for the Israel Electric Corporation shared the IEC’s response to Gisha’s Freedom of Information request on the company’s implementation of a decision to reduce electricity supply to Gaza. With great respect, he signed it.
At first glance, there is nothing special or jarring about the response. It describes in clinical detail the process by which technicians at the company will reduce the flow of electricity on the 10 high-tension lines carrying power from Israel to Gaza: “The restrictions on consumption will be implemented by calibrating the circuit breakers at the substations (preparation time – about three hours). For this purpose, the current will be stopped for about 30 minutes and reconnected once the restriction is adjusted.” Two lines each day, for five days, at the end of which Israel would sell 40% less power to Gaza than it did before.
One has to spend time unraveling the intricate chronology of the decision-making process described in this response. Already on May 15, the IEC received a letter from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) directing the company to reduce power, as per the request of the Palestinian Authority. Another letter, shared as part of the response and dated March 21, is from the IEC deputy director to the director, describing the process for reducing power and the accompanying risks. He writes that the date of implementation is the following day, May 22.
So what took place between May 22 and the actual date of implementation, which was June 19? One risk noted in the deputy director’s letter is the “visit of the American president” which was scheduled for May 22. So on the one hand, someone took care to consider the optics of reducing electricity to a large, poor civilian population on the same day the US president was visiting the Western Wall. On the other, a month later, when he was back in Washington, perhaps it was safe to assume he wouldn’t notice or care. Optics matter, the suffering that might ensue, less so.
The IEC is careful to note that it is just the implementer of a decision by Israel, which itself is a just the implementer of a decision by the PA to reduce supply. Despite the tinge of defensiveness, what the letter doesn’t reveal is the legal defense behind the IEC’s participation in this macabre experiment on people’s lives. The directorate did seek a legal opinion from management but the company considers it “classified” and refuses to share it. In a letter from the deputy director to the director, the former writes, “Legal opinion – in preparation. On the face of it – there is no impediment to implementation of the restrictions.”
The only Palestinians acknowledged in the letter are nameless “electricians” in Gaza, tasked with the paradoxical mission of cooperating with those who are denying them power, because if they don’t, as the letter states, they risk bringing upon Gaza a total blackout. In the case of a total blackout, the letter states, “supply restoration is expected to take a number of hours.”
The letter made me think of another document that will surely be noted in one of the sad chapters of human history, the so-called “red lines” document, which revealed that the Israeli government had a plan to count calories so that people in Gaza got just enough to eat but wouldn’t starve.
Then too, the writers of the document, like those that wrote politely from the IEC, could say they were just following orders. They can point to where they write that they want “to minimize as much as possible, the impact on essential needs in Gaza” as proof of their humanity.
They can say “it was Hamas that made us do it,” or the PA, but those who read the history books will know it was their hands on the switch that turned down the power.
At least the IEC responded. Requests for further information about the decision to reduce power to Gaza are still pending, 45 days after the decision began to be implemented by the Prime Minister’s Office, COGAT, the Defense Ministry and the attorney general’s office.
The IEC letter doesn’t give the public what it really deserves: an explanation about what took place behind the closed doors of decision- makers and how they justify having reached this decision, nor does it provide an explanation for what might occur on the receiving end in Gaza. It’s just a chilling account, in black and white, of how the IEC implemented Israel and the PA’s decision to willfully turn down the power on Gaza’s already suffering two million civilians – their homes, hospitals, schools, businesses and critical civilian infrastructure that is meant to deliver their water and pump sewage away from their homes.
Gisha continues to call to reverse the decision and restore power to Gaza. At the very least, Israeli decision- makers should take responsibility for their actions and tell the public the truth about what they mean – both for Israel and for Gaza. If they don’t, the history books will do it for them.
The author is the executive director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.