High Court Okays Reducing Fuel and Power Supply to Gaza Strip

Court rules reductions still meet humanitarian requirements; measure response to rocket fire from Gaza militants.

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday gave the state a green light to reduce the supply of power and fuel to the Gaza Strip, ruling that the reductions are legal as they still meet the humanitarian needs of the population.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the plan to reduce electricity, gasoline and diesel fuel supplies in late October last year, 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.

In Wednesday's ruling, the court denied petitions presented by several human rights organizations seeking to stop the government's plans to scale back the supply of fuel and electricity to the Strip.

Several human rights groups had challenged the sanctions, but Wednesday's ruling denied their petitions. Palestinian officials say the cutbacks have harmed Gaza's already impoverished residents by causing power shortages and crippling crucial utilities.

Israel supplies all of Gaza's fuel and more than two-thirds of its electricity.

As militants have continued to hit Israeli towns near Gaza with near-daily rocket barrages, Israel has reduced fuel shipments but not the electricity it directly supplies. That stood to change after the court ruling Wednesday. Israel blames the Hamas militant group, which violently seized control of Gaza last June, for the rocket fire.

"We emphasize that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a murderous terror group that operates incessantly to strike the state of Israel and its citizens, and violates every precept of international law with its violent actions," Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wrote.

The three-judge panel presiding over the case ruled that "during wartime, the civilian population is the first and central victim of the fighting, even when efforts are made to minimize the damage. Even within Israeli territory, in the age of terror attacks that has been going on for many years, the immediate and main victim is the civilian population. However, in the case of the attacks against Israel, the damage is not accidental, but rather a result of deliberate and frequent assaults on civilian populations which are aimed at harming innocent civilians. This is the difference between Israel - a democracy fighting for its life within the confines of the law - and the terrorist organizations trying to destroy it."

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, a leading opponent of the Gaza cuts slammed the court decision as a "dangerous precedent."

"This is a dangerous legal precedent that allows Israel to continue to violate the rights of Gaza residents and deprive them of basic humanitarian needs in violation of international law, the groups said in a statement," the group said in a statement.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said Wednesday's decision reflects the "criminal, ugly face of the occupation."