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Israel Sets Policy for Collective Punishment of all Gaza

In what human rights groups are calling a "devastating" decision, the Israeli High Court issued a verdict on January 30 rejecting a petition by ten groups and clearing the way for Israel to cut electricity and fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip.

The rights groups had argued that such reductions would have an adverse humanitarian impact on the enclave's residents who already suffer from power outages.

"The decision means that Israel may deliberately deprive civilians in Gaza of fuel and electricity supplies," Sari Bashi, the head of Gisha, one of the main petitioning groups, told IRIN, noting that institutions such as hospitals would be affected.

"While the court did agree that Israel is responsible for maintaining a minimum humanitarian standard, it did not define what that standard is," she said.

An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official told IRIN Israel had responsibility for areas under its control, such as the borders through which vital supplies are brought in.

The court ruled that since the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, when Israel pulled its settlers and permanent military presence out, the state did not have a "general responsibility to be concerned for the welfare of the residents of the Strip," but it does have some obligations according to international law due to the continued warfare and its control over the borders.

The court also noted the Strip's dependency on the electricity supplied from Israel.

Several legal experts said they were concerned about a specific aspect of the decision, in which the court accepted the arguments made by Israeli military officers and rejected those made by Palestinian officials.

The Israeli officers said the state was meeting the minimum humanitarian standards, and that they had been in touch with Palestinians in Gaza. However, Palestinian officials, including power plant personnel who presented counter-claims for the petitioners, claimed there was a negative humanitarian impact on civilians and vital institutions, such as hospitals, from the cuts implemented in recent months.

The petitioners said that several of their witnesses were delayed from leaving Gaza and were unable to present testimony to the court.

"The decision distorts laws and facts, in a way that is devastating for Gaza's 1.4 million residents," Gisha's Bashi said.

"The cuts are a total punishment for all people in central Gaza," Rafiq Maliha, from the power company in Gaza, told IRIN.

The Strip has been suffering from heavy power cuts since Israel bombed the power plant in 2006, in retaliation for the capturing of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. Before the airstrike, the plant produced 118MW. The current fuel levels allowed into Gaza, Maliha said, allow him to produce only 55MW, though the plant's current capacity is 80MW.

Israel supplies about 107MW and Egypt another 17MW. However, a document presented to the court, showed that Israel plans to reduce its supply by about five percent starting February 7.

The power cuts have reduced medical facilities' ability to conduct their work: Elective surgeries in the main Shifa hospital were currently on hold and their equipment was being damaged by the recurring blackouts -- and had caused problems with the supply of drinking water.

While problems in handling wastewater emanated partially from the cuts in industrial fuel supplied to the power plant, another aspect was the decision by Gaza's fuel importers to strike, and cease imports of petrol and diesel in protest at Israel's decision to massively reduce those supplies.

In a small but positive change, on January 31, a Coastal Municipalities Water Utility official confirmed that it had received a first recent delivery of fuel for its generators, which will allow it to operate some pumps again. In the meantime, large amounts of wastewater continued to be dumped into the sea.

Meanwhile, UNRWA (the UN Palestinian refugee agency) said its meat supplies were still not allowed into Gaza, while some World Food Program wheat imports were ruined due to extensive security checks and the harsh weather conditions. Similarly, vaccine supplies from the World Health Organization were ruined when they got wet. Two ICRC trucks were refused entry into Gaza.

© IRIN 2008

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Albion Monitor   January 30, 2008   (

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