So, it’s done.
Not exactly as announced, but it’s started.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced last week that sanctions would go into effect against Gaza on Sunday — to start the next time a Qassam rocket is fired from Gaza into Israel –and be racheted up with every new attack.
The Israeli cabinet apparently believes that its September 19 decision to label Hamas-run Gaza as an “enemy entity” or “hostile territory” [see here], absolves them from any thought that this is a violation of international law.
The trigger-happy Dor Alon, a private Israeli firm which has the contract to supply Israeli-provided fuel into Gaza — and their diesel fuel is what operates Gaza’s power plant — began implementing these sanctions on Sunday, apparently without an official Israeli government go-ahead. But, it was Sunday. It got that part right.
There was some confusion on Sunday, however, as the spokesman for Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration, Lt. Shadi Yassin, denied that Barak had given any order to cut the supplies. However, it was later reported in Haaretz that “The Defense Ministry said in a statement Sunday that the Sufa crossing between Gaza and Israel, used for transporting fuel, has been closed”. The Haaretz report that Sufa crossing — where fuel is delivered to Gaza — was closed on Sunday is here.
[Interestingly, Israel’s Ynet news reported Monday that “Heavy exchanges of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen [n.b. Hamas, in this instance] took place Sunday night near the Sufa crossing, which connects between Israel and the Gaza Strip … IDF forces operated inside the Palestinian territory, about 1 kilometer from the security fence. The operation was aimed at distancing terror cells from the fence and uncovering terror infrastructures. According to reports, the exchanges of fire continued Monday morning”. The Ynet report on military clashes at the Sufa crossing on Sunday and Monday is here.]
Haaretz reported in two separate articles that Israeli groups have petitioned to the High Court of Justice to stop the cut-off of fuel and other vital supplies to Gaza:
(1) “The plan to disrupt the electricity supply to Gaza has not yet been implemented in light of a petition to the High Court of Justice Sunday by the Arab-Israeli legal advocacy center Adalah against the disruption”.
The Haaretz report that Adalah has appealed to the High Court of Justice to stop the cut-off of supplies to Gaza is here.
(2) “The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the state to respond within five days to a petition submitted by dozens of human rights groups requesting that Israel halt its cutoff of fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip … Following the commencement of the fuel cutoff, dozens of human rights organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the Israel Defense Forces halt the cessation of fuel and electricity supplies. According to the rights groups, the decision to cut off vital power supplies is illegal and could likely harm the innocent civilian population in the embattled Gaza Strip”. The Haaretz report that dozens of human rights groups had filed a petition asking the Israeli High Court of Justice to stop the cut-off of fuel to Gaza is here.
The Jerusalem Post reported today that “Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz is scheduled to meet Monday with IDF and Defense Ministry representatives to work out a formula that will enable Israel to reduce the supply of services to the Gaza Strip without the move being defined as ‘collective punishment’ … Defense officials said that starting Sunday Israel cut fuel supplies to Gaza by 5 percent to 12%. The main reduction was in gasoline: Instead of 450,000 liters a week, Israel will now supply 300,000; Israel will continue to supply the same amount of industrial fuel – 1.75 million liters per week – for Gaza’s sole power plant; and instead of 1.4 million liters a week of diesel, Israel will now supply 1.25 million … Israeli officials said the changes would not affect hospitals, water supplies or sewage plants, and that the gasoline cuts were ‘marginal’ but were enough to disrupt the daily lives of Palestinian civilians and cause them ‘to ask themselves if the Kassam rocket fire is beneficial for them or not’. Officials said that while Israel did not want to ground ambulances or garbage trucks, the defense establishment decided to reduce the diesel supply since it was also employed by Hamas for its car pool that is used daily in terrorist activity. In a further effort to pressure Hamas, the IDF also decided to permanently shut down the Sufa crossing into Gaza, which had been used in recent months as a temporary replacement for the main Karni cargo crossing that has been closed due to increasing terrorist threats against it. With Sufa closed, the Kerem Shalom crossing near Sinai will be the only entry point operated by the IDF for the transfer of humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip. Defense officials said Sufa was being shut in line with the new policy of increasing pressure on Hamas. ‘There are daily rocket attacks against the crossing, and until now we used to switch off between Kerem Shalom and Sufa and used the one that wasn’t under fire’, an official said. ‘From now on, however, if Hamas fires at Kerem Shalom it will immediately shut down and will only reopen the next day if the firing stops’. ” The JPost report on Monday’s meeting about how to spin the reduction in vital supplies to Gaza is here.
So, though the fuel supplies destined for Gaza were not officially cut back (and the Israeli High Court of Justice must still rule on this, probably next week), the crossing where fuel supplies are allowed through to Gaza was closed by the Israeli military, so the supplies did not get through on Sunday anyway.
It takes a lawyer, or an investigative journalist, to keep up with all this.
In addition, the Palestinians have previously objected to using Keren Shalom crossing, south of the twice-destroyed Gaza International Airport, and at the point where the borders of Gaza, Israel, and the Egyptian Sinai meet. So, this appears to offer another golden opportunity for Israel to compel the Palestinians to accept Israeli decisions.
Haaretz reported in another article that the Kerem Shalom crossing has only about half the capacity of Sufa crossing to transfer humanitarian goods to Gaza. Sufa, Haaretz said, “had been operating since the Hamas takeover of the Strip in June instead of the Karni crossing that was closed down due to terror alerts. Most of the merchandise moved to the Gaza
Strip about 100 to 120 truckloads a day went through the Sufa crossing. Merchandise will now be able to enter the Gaza Strip only at Kerem Shalom, which has a much smaller capacity of up to 55 trucks a day”. The Haaretz story which mentions the much smaller capacity of Kerem Shalom crossing is here.
The JPost also disclosed, in its report today, that “A senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that while it had not yet been decided when to begin suspending electricity to the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks, this new policy would also likely be implemented within the next few days. The officials said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had not been flooded with urgent calls for Israel to rescind these measures, and that Israel had explained to the international community that the goal was not to punish residents of the Gaza Strip, but rather to protect Israeli citizens”.
Since its air attack destroyed the generators that operate the main Gaza power plant last year, Israel has also been directly providing about one-third of Gaza’s electricity, as well — in addition to the diesel fuel that has been used to run the Gaza Power Plant since the June 2006 airstrike.
The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that “truck drivers at Gaza’s main fuel depot complained that they were unable to fill their tankers, and some drivers said they were turned away altogether”. The JPost also reported that the head of the Palestinian Fuel Agency, Mujahad Sa’alama, said that “on Saturday, a reduction of 40-50 percent was recorded in the supply of diesel fuel and that there was a decrease of 12% in fuel for the Gaza power station”.
Later news reports said that the European Union confirmed the immediate and large reduction in supplies.
The JPost said that “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i told Israel Radio that Israel would begin to make the cuts to Gaza’s fuel and electricity supplies as early as Sunday or Monday, after the court system gives the government its final authorization. The plan, approved by Barak Thursday, is to cut electricity for an initial 15 minutes after a rocket attack, gradually increasing the length of outages if the attacks continue … Despite the clear indication that the planned power cuts was retaliation for Kassam attacks, Vilna’i insisted Saturday that the decision was another stage in disengaging from Gaza and was not a part of any ‘punishment policy’. He said the sanctions are meant to wean Gaza’s dependence on Israel and conceded that they were unlikely to halt rocket fire”.
The JPost added that Ahmed Ali, deputy director of Gaza’s Petroleum Authority, which distributes Israeli fuel shipments in Gaza, said that ” ‘This is a serious warning to the people of the Gaza Strip. Their lives are now in danger … The hospitals, water pumping station and sewage will now be affected by the lack of fuel’. Ali said daily fuel shipments on Sunday were more than 30 percent below normal. He said Israel delivered 200,000 liters of diesel fuel, compared to 350,000 liters on a normal day, and 90,000 liters of gasoline, instead of the regular supply of 150,000 liters. He said it would take several days for the fuel crunch to be felt, since Gaza keeps about four days of fuel in reserve”. The JPost report that Dor Alon had indeed cut fuel supplies to Gaza on Sunday is here.
Dor Alon was the company that cut off fuel supplies into Gaza in August, the day the European Union said it might cut off funding if it were confirmed that Hamas might somehow be collecting the Gaza Palestinian consumer’s payment for their electricity bill. (The EU pays for the fuel that Israel provides to Gaza via Dor Alon, and this fuel runs the Gaza power stations, since an Israeli air strike in June 2006 knocked out all the generators, which have not since been replaced due to the sanctions imposed on Gaza).
Hamas, whose officials have carried suitcases filled with cash into Gaza since sanctions were implemented against the whole Palestinian Authority since Hamas won the majority of seats in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in early 2006, indignantly denied it wasn’t pocketing any money.
In any case, very few Gazan Palestinians are able to pay their utility bills anyway — and the Palestinian Authority is now basically run by the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a number of Fatah or independent ministers, and it has decided to maintain the supply of electricity to Gaza whether the people there can pay for it or not.
On top of that, in any case, Israel has simply been deducting “at the source” the entire amount due [n.b., at least for the electricity it provides to Gaza since the June 2006 air strike] from the millions of dollars of Palestinian customs tax revenues that Israel collects at its ports, and which Israel has largely been withholding from the Palestinian Authority since donor sanctions against Hamas’ electoral victory went into effect in early 2006. Whether or not the EU donors pay for the fuel, the PA has been paying … (Israel has been holding about 46 of those elected Hamas parliamentarians in detention, many for over a year.)
The European Union’s Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner of Austria, met on Monday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and said during the meeting, according to the Associated Press that “she was ‘very concerned’ about Israel’s decision to reduce fuel supply to Gaza and cut back on electricity to the Strip. While noting the ‘distress’ caused to Israelis by Palestinian rocket fire, she said, ‘I think collective punishment is never a solution’.” The AP report on the EU Commissioner’s meeting with Olmert is published here. Ferrero-Waldner has served as Austrian Foreign Minister, and before that she was also, for a while, the former UNSG Annan’s Chief of Protocol at UNHQ/NY.
Unlike Ferrero-Waldner, Annan (who now heads the new Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum) apparently had nothing to say about the Gaza sanctions when he met Israeli Prime Minister Olmert on Sunday. See UN-Truth’s post on the Annan-Olmert meeting here.