Gaza suffering severe fuel shortages

A Palestinian boy sits at a petrol station after fuel ran out in Gaza City following that day’s Israeli high cort decision to allow the reduction of fuel supplies to Gaza, 30 November 2007. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The Gaza Strip continues to witness a dramatic decline in the fuel and power supplies since 16 October 2007. The Israeli high court upheld the decision of Israeli authorities to reduce the amount of fuel, including industrial fuel that is used for electricity generation, into the Strip on 13 November 2007. Under this decision, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) reduced the amount of fuel necessary for operating the power station to 250,000 liters per day. Prior to 16 October 2007, the average amount was 350,000 liters per day (since 16 October 2007: 350,000 liters per day x the five days when Gaza receives fuel = 1,750,000 liters/seven days = 250,000 liters per day used for operating Gaza’s power station. This limits the daily megawatts generated to 42). Thus, the power station now produces only 42 megawatts. Before the implementation of that decision, it generated 65 megawatts.

Before the Israeli shelling of the power station on 28 June 2006, the station produced 90 megawatts. After it was partially repaired, it was able to generate roughly 65 megawatts. In light of this continued shortage of fuel to the power station during the last three months, the station consumed all of its emergency fuel storage and, since 6 January 2008, it has been forced to limit its production by 23 megawatts of power under the pressure of fuel shortages.

Even before the IOF implemented their decision to cut back fuel to the Strip, the IOF closed the Nahal Oz Crossing. Since this crossing is the sole point for fuel imports, this limited entry of fuel to only five days per week. The five-day supply should operate the plant for seven days; consequently, it must store a small amount of fuel throughout the week. This enables the company to cover the two-day lapse from when they do not receive fresh fuel supplies. According to the information afforded to Al Mezan, the average amount of fuel allowed into the Gaza Strip reached 350,000 liters for five days, despite the fact the station must operate seven days per week. Before mid-October 2007, the average amount allowed into the Strip was 500,000 liters per day, also for five days per week.

According to the investigations of Al Mezan, it is estimated that Gazans need 237 megawatts of electricity. The Israeli electricity company provides the Strip with 120 megawatts, while Egypt gives only 17 megawatts (following the bombardment of the power plant by IOF in June 2006, Gaza suffered a serious shortage of electricity supply. Israel, for the first time, allowed Egypt to give electricity for the town of Rafah, which is located on Egypt’s border). This brings the level of actual supply at 197 Megawatts if the station produces 65 megawatts. However, the Palestinian power station now produces around 42 megawatts; therefore, Gazans suffer from a greater shortage of electricity, estimated at 23 percent of their actual need. The Israeli authorities continue to reduce amounts of fuel at their discretion, and without taking into account the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population.

The Israeli high court examined a petition submitted on 29 November 2007 by ten human rights organizations, including Al Mezan, against the Israeli government’s decision to continue their reduction of fuel and power to the Gaza Strip. In this petition, the human rights organizations affirmed that reducing the amounts of fuel and power would deteriorate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and affect the livelihoods of the Palestinians. It is important to note that even before the Israeli government implemented their recent decision, Gazans suffered from shortages of fuel and power. Yet, the court upheld the decision and permitted fuel cuts.

The Israeli high court ordered the government of Israel (GOI) to provide information and data to Gaza authorities on the planned reduction of electrical power, and how such reduction would not intensify the existing humanitarian crisis. The GOI, however, failed to present it until recently, as it provided very general information.

Meanwhile, it assured that it will present the necessary information before the next hearing session. Until the court decides, it will remain unclear if Israel will further reduce the electricity supply to Gaza, which will bring the shortage to a higher percentage than the above-mentioned 23 percent.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights expresses its strong condemnation of the Israeli policies towards the Palestinian population. The reduced supplies infringe upon the humanitarian, health and municipal services. IOF did not worry about the lives of the civilians who suffer greatly from a continued shortage of electricity and fuel at the peak of the winter season. The electricity company was forced to cut electricity in different areas of the Gaza Strip for ten hours every two days for each area, on average. This affects the people’s rights to adequate housing, employment, and education. This also seriously affects the people’s right to health care and right to life, including public health, and contributes to an increase in the pollution of the environment.

Al Mezan views that the continued reduction in the quantities of fuel for power generation as a serious risk, and considers this act as collective punishment for all civilians in the effected population. Their negative position was clear, as it effects the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip.

Al Mezan expresses its strong disapproval of Israel’s decision to reduce the industrial fuel necessary for the production of electricity. It warns that the consequences of reducing the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply, which increases the supply’s deficit, leads to further deterioration of the human rights situation.

It also expresses outrage at the continued absence of international protection of Gaza’s citizens, which encourages the IOF to continue their serious violations of human rights principles and norms of international humanitarian law.

Al Mezan emphasizes that the Israeli high court gave the permission to the IOF to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law. The Center is concerned that the food and health conditions of the civilian population will deteriorate further if the reduction of electricity supplies is enforced.

Al Mezan calls on the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention, for immediate and urgent action to stop the gross violations of human rights principles and rules of international humanitarian law committed by the IOF. The Parties have a legal and moral duty to provide international protection of the civilian population under occupation and not to allow the continued violation of human rights. Therefore, the Center calls on the international community to exert pressure on Israel to lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, and to stop reducing the quantities of fuel for generating electricity and to increase the quantities supplied to Gaza. The observance of life and welfare is one of Israel’s duties vis-a-vis the population of the Gaza Strip, as it continues to completely control borders, crossings, airspace and territorial waters.

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