The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is extremely worried about the continued Israeli ban on fuel supplies required for civilian life in the Gaza Strip. The stoppage in fuel supplies has paralyzed 50 percent of the educational sector as half the students in all educational levels are unable to reach their schools and universities. In addition, educational sector employees have been unable to reach their work. Furthermore, the transportation sector has nearly stopped functioning throughout the Gaza Strip. As a result, all basic functions of civilian life have come to a near standstill, including drinking water delivery, sewage water disposal, and garbage collection. In addition, healthcare facilities registered a 25 percent drop in clients due to the transportation crisis. Furthermore, hundreds of healthcare professionals are unable to reach their work places.
On 9 April 2008, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) stopped the flow of the heavily reduced fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip. As a result, the humanitarian situation hit hard by continuous collective punishment since 15 June 2006, deteriorated even further.
PCHR’s monitoring indicates that the Gaza Strip has become a ghost town, especially in the morning and in the afternoon. Approximately 145 fuel stations have shut down and all suppliers of fuel and gas shut down due to the total lack of supplies. Local sources indicate that the transportation sector is operating at 15 percent capacity, including public and private transportation. The civilian population is finding it extremely difficult to reach places of work, study, and even healthcare facilities.
The educational sector is the hardest hit by the fuel crisis. Absenteeism in schools and universities varied from 20-50 percent since last Saturday, especially in Gaza City which houses most schools and universities. The Islamic University, al-Azhar University, al-Aqsa University, and al-Quds Open University registered 30-55 percent absenteeism. The Islamic University stated that yesterday 60 percent of its 19,000 students and 600 faculty members were absent due to their inability to reach the university. Al-Azhar University stated that absenteeism of their students (19,000) climbed from 30 percent on Saturday to 40 percent on Sunday, and 55 percent on Monday morning. Al-Aqsa University suspended studies starting today till Thursday due to 50 percent absenteeism of students (14,000) and staff.
Approximately 50 percent of the 6,000 students in al-Aqsa University branch in Khan Younis were absent today and 10 percent of the staff were not able to come to work. Approximately 1,000 students were absent from the Islamic University branch in Khan Younis. And in the same city, 30 percent of the students were absent from al-Quds Open University.
On the school level, thousands of students and teachers were unable to reach their schools. Absenteeism ranged from 10-30 percent of the total number of school students of 448,000. UNRWA schools in the eastern part of Khan Younis registered 30 percent absenteeism (10,500 students). A school in al-Qarara to the north of Khan Younis closed due to the absence of a large number of teachers. Dar al-Arqam private school in Gaza announced a three-day suspension of school since the school’s buses ran out of fuel.
The Ministry of Health announced that most ambulances have stopped due to lack of fuel. In addition, the ministry announced that it has started using its limited fuel reserve to operate health centers and important equipment. The ministry warned that the expiry of this small reserve will paralyze the health sector and the remaining operational ambulances, thus depriving civilians of minimum healthcare services. In addition, hospitals and medical centers in the Gaza Strip are suffering from the absence of staff due to their inability to reach their workplaces. As a result, the operation of these institutions is threatened at a time of escalated Israeli military activity inside the Gaza Strip.
In light of this situation, PCHR affirms that the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip is a form of collective punishment and reprisal action by IOF against Palestinian civilians. These crimes are a violation of international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), and international human rights law, especially the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
PCHR reiterates the call to the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), to break their silence and pressure Israel to lift the siege and end the suffering of the 1.5 million civilians living in the Gaza Strip. The Centre calls for pressuring Israel to allow the immediate and safe passage of basic needs to the Gaza Strip including fuel, food and medical supplies. The Centre reminds these parties of their legal obligation to ensure the respect of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.