Following up on the situation in Gaza – fuel cuts Phase II, “mistaken” electricity cuts, and crisis of lack of spare parts…
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s program to punish
A second round of fuel cuts – Phase II — was scheduled to start on 30 December, with a military-ordered reduction of some 35% to 43% (apparently depending on what numbers are used as the baseline) in the amount of gasoline that will now be supplied to the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli human rights organization GISHA has brought together a group of Israeli and Palestinian human rights bodies who have petitioned the Israeli High Supreme Court to block the military-ordered cuts in fuel and electricity to Gaza, and to revoke the 19 September Israeli cabinet decision that is the basis of these cuts – the declaration that the Gaza Strip is a “hostile entity” or “enemy territory”. The petitioners argued that this is not purely and simply an economic boycott.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said recently that his country was engaged in a “true war” with Gaza – which is being waged with one eye constantly on the reaction of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who is trying to shepherd the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority into a peace agreement that will include the creation of a Palestinian state – if possible, before George Bush leaves office in January 2009.
At the heart of the human rights groups’ petition to the Court is the argument – still resisted by many within Israel, though widely accepted everywhere else in the world, and not explicitly enunciated in the documentation presented to the Court – that Israel continues to be in occupation of the Gaza Strip from which it carried out a unilateral “disengagement” in the late summer of 2005, removing some 8,000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces that were protecting them.
Israeli surveillance drones are constantly buzzing overhead, and a large white surveillance blimp is tethered just over the Erez crossing from Israel into northern Gaza – and others may be placed elsewhere around the Gaza Strip — in addition to all the usual electronic and satellite monitoring.
Sanctions were first imposed against the Palestinian Authority and the entire Palestinian territory after Hamas won the majority of seats in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in early 2006. Sanctions were tightened against
It is an unprecedented regime of control – and neglect – with no apparent mechanism of appeal.
So far, the Israeli High Supreme Court has declined to intervene in the military’s decision to order the first phase of fuel cuts that started on 28 October.
A private Israeli company, Dor Alon, which enjoys an Israeli-awarded monopoly on fuel sales to the Gaza Strip – their sales to the Palestinian Authority account for some 40% of their business — apparently experienced no qualms in complying immediately with the instructions.
Phase I cuts were supposed to reduce by 15% the amount of fuel supplied to
On 31 December, the Coordinator of (Israeli) Activities in the Territories, Moshe Krif, said he didn’t know about Phase II going into effect or not, but added: “I just know that all the needs are supplied”.
The Court has not yet responded to the human rights groups’ recent repeated requests for a restraining order to block Phase II fuel cuts. However, the Court has now asked the state to respond by Sunday 6 January – but this does not “tie the state’s hands” meanwhile, GISHA’s executive director Sari Bashi explained.
These measures now proposed by the Israeli Defense Ministry apparently include a temporary restoration, to pre-cut levels, in the amounts of diesel fuel that will be allowed into Gaza – after, Bashi noted, functioning hospitals have been significantly impaired for lack of diesel, and tens of thousands of Gazans are being deprived of clean water on a rotating basis.
Diesel is used to operate generators, which are vitally-needed back-up sources of power during rolling and random power outages in
Bashi, a lawyer, said that the state – which told the Court that it “limits the humanitarian impact as much as possible” — now appears to be trying to modify its reduction of vital supplies to
But, Bashi says, “this is completely illegal, and it is endangering 1.5 million people who are being pushed to the brink”.
Gisha and its co-petitioners argued that “any reduction in electricity supply to
The electricity cuts that were to go into effect on 2 December have been delayed pending further clarification. On 30 November, the Israeli High Court asked the government for more information on the impact of proposed electricity cuts, and said it assumed the military would accordingly delay its planned cuts.
According to GISHA’s Sari Bashi, the army indicated in early November that it was already installing voltage-reduction dimmers on four out of the 10 or 11 feeder lines through which the Israel Electric Company (IEC), a semi-public utility, supplies electricity to various parts of the Gaza Strip.
The military’s plan was to restrict electrical supply by 5% (from 400 ampere to 380 ampere daily) on one of these lines per week, until all four lines were regularly operating at the reduced capacity.
But, Bashi said, in information it supplied to the court on 20 December, the state revealed that erroneous information had earlier been given when it reported that no restriction was currently being imposed.
In fact, Israel Electric Company reported that it had “accidentally” reduced the electrical supplies to
In addition, Israel Electric Company said, since January 2007, two other lines coming from
When that was discovered in December, one of those two lines was boosted up to 380 ampere – corresponding to what the line would carry if the 5 % electricity cut were allowed.
It is not clear if the other line is still operating only at the more reduced 330 ampere capacity.
The explanation offered was an agreement, dating back to 2005 (but apparently only acted upon in January 2007), between
It was “as a courtesy”,
The state attorney argued that all this only goes to show that the military’s planned electricity cuts will not cause severe and disproportionate harm to the residents of the Gaza Strip, as the human right groups have claimed.
The Israeli High Supreme Court reacted with withering criticism, saying that “the facts were not properly investigated” and the “course of events described above was puzzling”.
It demanded more specific clarification from the state, and scheduled a hearing in late January.
Electricity and fuel are actually closely interconnected.
Dr. Rafiq Maliha, Deputy Director of the Gaza Power and Electricity Company, said that “There are two problems at the
The other problem has followed the June 2006 Israeli air attack in anger on the
The 20% deficit is being managed by “burden-sharing”, which distributes the planned cuts through rolling black-outs and brown-outs. Electricity must be cut for several hours a day, every day, in different areas of
The deficit could have been reduced with the recent delivery of a new transformer, Dr. Maliha said, which would add 25-30 MW of production per day, so that Gaza power plant could now provide up to 80 MW of electricity. But, to do that would require receiving 500 cubic meters of diesel fuel per day – and that is double the amount presently supplied under Phase I cuts.
Due to lack of fuel, Dr. Maliha explained, “We are running only two gas turbine units out of four”.
The numbers are chilling: “Each unit needs 160 cubic meters per day of liquid fuel to operate (or 720 cubic meters per day for all four) – and each unit will generate 25 – 30 MW of electricity”, he explained. “Until the end of October, early November, we were receiving 360 cubic meters a day, and running two turbines. But what we are now receiving now is only 250 cubic meters of fuel a day – which is not enough to run even two. So, we have been dipping into our reserves – which were 2000 cubic meters – to make up the difference. And, by the end of December or the first days in January, we will have zero reserves left”.
Unless there is a change in the meantime, Dr. Maliha said, “when the reserves are exhausted, we will be receiving only enough incoming fuel to run one turbine per day with the present cuts”, and the Gaza’s main power plant will have to cut back its output by 25-30 MW of electricity per day. Then,
In addition to the calculations concerning the turbines, any power they generate requires step-up and step-down transformers to distribute the electricity in
In an affidavit submitted with GISHA’s petition to the Israeli High Supreme Court, Nedal Toman, engineer and project manager for the Gaza Electricity and Distribution Company (GEDCO) stated that “There is no interconnected electricity grid in
That means, Toman explained, that “There is no technical way to be able to supply electricity in lower voltage [amounts] through the main lines – you either supply electricity, or not”.
Toman also said that when electricity does have to be cut, it is done by operating “disconnection pillars” to cut power to the main lines in a certain area, so that other areas will be supplied with electrical capacity. This is a dangerous operation, he said, and it should normally be done only once a year. But, in
Many very basic items are out of stock in GEDCO’s warehouse, Toman stated. They are even out of low and high voltage fuses. “We cannot even find one in
Ominously, Israel bans the entry of all spare parts into Gaza – including those needed for essential support systems as water and sewage pumps, electrical installations, and back-up generators – which threatens to throw the entire precarious situation into chaos at any moment.
Maher Najjar of the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility said in a phone conversation on 16 December that the second of
This was a minor catastrophe, Najjar explained in a phone interview from
As an immediate emergency measure, Najjar said, “We have asked GEDCO not to cut power at all to this sewage pumping station”. But if anything happens — for example, if demand suddenly exceeds capacity — then, Najjar indicated, the system will fail — and
“We have three containers of spare parts sitting in Ramallah”, Najjar said. “But we have not received any spare parts for over five months, nearly six months”, he explained. And, he added, many letters have been sent to the Israeli authorities about this urgency of this problem — without any response so far.
The Coastal Waters Municipalities Water Utility has been working with the World Bank, and hopes that institution may weigh in soon.
Last week, Najjar reported that one of the two broken big back-up generators was being cannibalized for spare parts to fix the other one at Pump Station 7, which he said was a top urgent priority. “If there is no generator at the pumping station, there will be a sewage flood. So, we divert our resources to the pumping station, and even if that means that the waste water will be only partially treated, it is less critical”, Najjar explained.
Even without an immediate crisis, Najjar said, “we have 30 to 35 projects that are stopped or frozen because we cannot repair any assets.
For the present infrastructure, “If you don’t have preventive maintenance, then you have breakdowns”, Najjar said.
“It’s a matter of a potential catastrophe”, Najjar said, “and the whole water and sewage system is at risk, if the situation does not change.