Almost unbearable uncertainty in Gaza – "explosion" feared

The Israeli human rights organization Gisha sent an urgent letter to the State Attorney´s office on Tuesday urging saying that the Israeli military should authorize delivery of industrial diesel fuel to Gaza´s only power plant in time to prevent its imminent shut-down – by Wednesday evening.

Gisha´s Executive Director Sari Bashi reported that Rafiq Maliha, Project Manager at the Gaza power plant, warned in a letter Tuesday to the Palestinian Energy Authority that “In case there are no sufficient fuel deliveries, GPGC [Gaza Power Generating Company] would be forced to shut down the power plant completely by tomorrow evening time”.

Reached in Gaza, Maliha said he does not know now the exact time, but the power plant will run out of fuel sometime on Wednesday evening. He added that he has received no word at all so far about possible fuel deliveries Wednesday.

Bashi added that “if the power plant shuts down, utility officials expect power outages of 8-16 hours per day throughout Gaza – power outages which increase reliance on dwindling reserves of fuel for back-up generators”.

However, none of the regular diesel fuel that is used to run generators has been allowed into Gaza for many days, either.

Bashi says that Gisha has written two letters to the Defense Ministry since 13 April concerning this impending crisis, but got no response. Today´s letter to the State Attorney´s office is a pre-litigation procedure, she said. “We want to be ready, in case it will be necessary to make an appeal to the Court on Wednesday, because the power plant will shut down Wednesday night if it doesn´t get more fuel”.

The Israeli Defense Minister’s publicly-stated strategy is to permit “no luxuries” into Gaza, and to provide the bare minimum necessary to sustain life – while saying at the same time it will not intentionally allow it to collapse into a complete “humanitarian crisis”, a risky strategy.

As a consequence of this strategy, any delays in fuel delivery, or any closure of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, can cause a crisis at the Gaza power plant which provides electricity to Gaza City and the central Gaza region, where one-third of Gaza´s inhabitants live.

Gisha Legal Adviser Kenneth Mann said after the 27 January Supreme Court hearing that to the Justices, a humanitarian crisis is apparently more than enormous discomfort and distress – it must involve actual loss of human life.

But warnings from Gaza about the worsening situation have been increasing in recent days.

Gisha led efforts last year of a group of ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations to get the Israeli High Court of Justice to block fuel cuts – and separate electricity cuts – to Gaza, after the Israeli Government declared Gaza a “hostile entity” or “enemy territory” on 19 September, in response to Palestinian firing of projectiles from Gaza onto Israeli territory.

The Supreme Court declined to intervene in the fuel cuts, which began on 28 October.

The Court then ruled on 27 January that it accepted the Israeli military´s assurance that it was monitoring the situation and would not allow a humanitarian crisis to occur in the Gaza Strip.

The separate electricity cuts started on 7 February – but, while it is not totally clear, a spokesperson for the IDF Coordination of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories gave this journalist information suggesting that Israel is now delivering slightly more directly-supplied electricity to Gaza than it was previously.

Bashi said that she told the State Attorney that “that the supply stoppages violate the state’s commitment to the Israeli Supreme Court to permit a ´minimum´ amount of fuel to enter Gaza”, and she requested a response by the end of the day Tuesday “in order to preserve the ability to appeal to the Supreme Court before the feared shut-down”.

The IDF announced again today that it was keeping Nahal Oz terminal – where all fuel destined for Gaza is transferred – closed again for another day. Since an attack on the terminal from Gaza on 9 April in which two employees of the private Israeli company Dor Alon which has an exclusive contract to provide Palestinian-ordered fuel to Gaza were killed, there were large-scale deliveries only last Wednesday afternoon and Thursday, but that fuel is now nearly all used up.

Officials at Gaza´s power plant have also feared the effects of delays during the current Passover holiday week in Israel. Because of the holiday, the State Attorney´s office is minimally staffed with an on-call attorney, Bashi said.

The Gaza power plant has been operating two turbines on partial loads to maintain fuel as long as possible, but this must be done manually, and is both difficult and dangerous. On Monday afternoon, Maliha told this reporter that “It´s very difficult to manage. It would be easier for us to stop and restart operations than to do what we are doing. But, we´ll continue as far as we can”.

Maliha was speaking about technical requirements. Another closure of the Gaza power plant could be catastrophic.

Any electricity shortage has adverse affects on the life support systems and the operating theaters — and even on the laundry and sanitation systems — at Gaza City’s main Shifa Hospital.

Maher en-Najjar of the Gaza Coastal Waters Municipality reported today that two-thirds of Gaza´s waste water pumping stations have fuel for only five days, while one-third of these sewage pumping stations are totally out of fuel and are now discharging waste into an overflow collection or directly into the Mediterranean sea, to protect against flooding that could endanger human life. Gaza´s sewage treatment plants are totally out of fuel, he said, and Gaza´s 125 water wells operating on electricity are nearly out of fuel for back-up generators, while the 15 water wells that do not operate on electricity are now out of fuel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *