Palestinians search for survivors in a three-storey building that was brought down in an Israeli airstrike targeting a Hamas leader in Gaza City 12 July 2006. At least nine Palestinians civilians, including several children, were killed by the quarter-ton bomb (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)
On July 11, 2006, six human rights groups petitioned the Israeli High Court demanding that the crossings in Gaza be opened to allow for the steady and regular supply of fuel, food, medicine, and equipment, including spare parts needed to operate generators.
The groups - the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Hamoked: Center for Defence of the Individual, B’tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Gisha - Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement also asked for an urgent hearing in order to prevent serious harm to the health of the civilian population, especially patients in hospital, and to prevent the breakdown of the water and sewage system in Gaza.
During the current military operation in the Gaza Strip the Israeli military has interrupted the supply of fuel to Gaza and kept Gaza’s crossings mostly closed to supply of food and other humanitarian goods. The uninterrupted supply of fuel and equipment is necessary for the functioning of Gaza’s health and sanitation systems, and Gaza requires a steady supply of food and medicine.
Since Gaza’s power station was destroyed on June 28, there is an increased need for fuel to power the generators in Gaza and for spare parts to keep the generators running at such a high capacity. The closure of Karni Crossing has led to shortages in food at a time when, given the difficulty of obtaining electricity to prepare and refrigerate foodstuffs, Gaza requires increased shipments of dairy products, meat, flour, and other goods.
Without a steady supply of fuel and parts, hospitals cannot perform life-saving surgery and treatment plants cannot pump and treat sewage in Gaza. Gaza hospitals have reduced their activities to life-saving procedures. Since the bombing of the power plant, Gaza’s water utility has been dumping 60,000 cubic meters of raw sewage into the sea each day, for lack of power and equipment to run the treatment plants, and there is concern that untreated sewage will pollute the aquifer or spill into the streets.
Because of the electricity shortages, stores in Gaza have stopped selling meat and dairy products. Trucks laden with food and medicine have been stuck at Karni Crossing, which has been closed since July 6, including 230 containers from international aid organizations.
Withholding fuel, food, and equipment from Gaza residents constitutes collective punishment, in violation of international law. The petition argues that Israel is not fulfilling its legal obligations to provide for the needs of the civilian population and to distinguish between military and civilian targets.
According to Faysal Shawa, a businessman and Gaza resident: “We have been thrown back to the way people lived 100 years ago … We don’t have water, we don’t have milk for our kids.”
According to Maher Najer, Deputy Director of Gaza’s Water Company: “We face severe shortages in the electricity, fuel, and spare parts needed to operate Gaza’s water and sewage systems. These shortages threaten to create a public health catastrophe.”