Text size

The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the state to delay its reduction of power supplies to the Gaza Strip by at least one week, pending a full presentation detailing the proposed operation.

The court's interim decision follows petitions by 10 human rights groups against the state's plan to reduce supplies of electricity, gasoline and diesel fuel to the coastal territory.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the plan in late October, thereby accepting the defense establishment's recommendation to impose economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip in response to continued Qassam rocket attacks by Palestinian militants on southern Israel.

Despite Friday's court order, the justices upheld the state's plan to reduce fuel transfers to the Strip, as long as the humanitarian needs of Gaza's residents were given primary consideration.

"We were not convinced that the decision by [the state] to limit the amount of fuel transferred to the Gaza Strip harms, at this point, vital humanitarian needs in the Strip," the three-judge panel wrote in their decision.

Sari Bashi of Gisha, one of the groups spearheading the court appeal, said Friday in respose to the decision, "We welcome the delay in electricity cuts and expect that at the end of the day the court will prevent the military from cutting electricity to Gaza, but we are concerned about the court's failure to intervene in the fuel cuts."

Attorney Hassan Jabareen, general director of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said in response to the decision that, "The Supreme Court's ruling which confirms the Israeli government's decision to cut the supplies of fuel to Gaza violates the basic principles of international humanitarian law. Today, they will cut the fuel and tomorrow, they might cut some of the food. The Court's decision to halt cuts to the electricity for 12 days might be perceived as an achievement but it is partial and temporary."

Israel has said the electricity cuts will be minor and will not cause harm to installations like hospitals, water pumps and sewage plants. But Bashi said the step would cause humanitarian damage.

"Any intentional reduction in vital services to Gaza residents who cannot receive fuel, electricity or other goods except from Israel constitutes illegal collective punishment," Bashi said.

Government spokesman David Baker defended the government policy Friday, calling it a non-lethal means for Israel to send a message to those responsible for the rocket fire from Gaza.

"We will not accept this threat to Israeli towns and civilians, and we will take all steps necessary to protect them," Baker said.

Gaza's private fuel companies have decided not to accept the reduced shipments as a way to protest the cutbacks, allowing only vital cooking gas into Gaza, said Mahmoud al-Shawa, head of a consortium of Gaza petroleum companies. The power plant that provides a portion of Gaza's electricity has continued to receive fuel, he said, but the companies that run Gaza's gas stations and sell to private consumers have refused all shipments since Wednesday.

"We refuse to accept this. That will mean we are participating in a disaster," he said, adding that more than 100 of Gaza's 150 gas stations have already shut down because of the shortages.

Trucks and cars lined up Friday at the few open gas stations in Gaza City. Some stations covered their pumps with blankets or plastic bags.

In the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, Hassan Abu Taha said he closed his gas station to maintain some diesel reserves, but was ordered to reopen by Hamas security forces.

Ismail Haniyeh, deposed Palestinian Authority prime minister, told reporters after Friday prayers that fuel levels in Gaza have reached critical levels, and accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of colluding with Israel on the matter.

The state's plan has come under attack by Palestinian Authority leaders, who have called for international intervention on the matter. The European Union and United Nations responded by urging Israel to reconsider the sanctions.

The main component of the plan involves temporary disruptions to the electricity supply to different parts of the Gaza Strip, but not to essential institutions, such as hospitals.

Soon after Barak's approval, Israel began to cut off shipments of fuel to the coastal territory.

At the same time, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz temporarily prohibited the state from cutting off electricity to parts of the Gaza Strip, as was outlined in the plan adopted earlier by the defense establishment. The attorney general said that the plan must be examined further before such a measure can be implemented without causing a humanitarian crisis, as the prime minister had promised a week earlier not to do.

The High Court two weeks ago ordered the state to present data affirming that the move would not affect the humanitarian needs of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces responded with an affadavit maintaining that the decision to cut fuel supplies did not violate its responsibility to provide humanitarian services to Gaza residents.

The decision on utilizing economic sanctions as punishment for continued rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip had originally been approved by the cabinet, on the condition that it would be legally sanctioned. Of particular concern was the issue of proportionality, and on this basis, certain parameters were developed on the kind of sanctions that could be imposed on civilians, without violating basic humanitarian needs.

Defense sources had said that the sanctions would be carried out on a weekly basis and will not be directly or immediately linked to the number or frequency of rocket attacks.