High UN Offical calls on Israel to open Gaza borders – Israeli human rights group says Israel is deliberately obstructing repairs to Gaza's electricity

Here are two more items — actually, three — which deserve attention and reflection:

I. More excerpts from a Statement to the United Nations Security Council in New York by John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, 27 January 2009:
“There are important principles at stake here too, as the Security Council itself clearly recognized in Resolution 1860, which paid particular attention to the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance. Free and full access for goods and humanitarian staff is something we have battled long and hard for in other contexts, such as Darfur and Myanmar … Moreover, Israel has a particular responsibility as the occupying power in this context, because of its control of Gaza ’s borders, to respect the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law. It is therefore critical that new steps are taken immediately by the Israeli authorities to move quickly to the sustained re-opening of crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. Many countries support this. The crossings need to be opened up not because Hamas want it or might benefit from it, but because the Gazans need it“…
Continue reading High UN Offical calls on Israel to open Gaza borders – Israeli human rights group says Israel is deliberately obstructing repairs to Gaza's electricity

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.

From Gaza – "We are still alive"

Gaza’s power plant has received fuel to generate electricity for the third day running today — but it is not enough to keep the plant operating until Sunday.

The power plant has cut back output, but — unless more fuel is delivered on Friday — there will be no fuel left by around mid-day on Saturday. The exact time will depend on consumption and output.

Today, Gaza’s power plant is using two turbines only at partial loads, and generating only 45 MW of electricity.

So far, 1,260,000 liters of fuel have been delivered since the power plant stopped producing electricity at 20:00 on Sunday night due to lack of fuel. But that is only enough to operate two turbines at partial loads for four days.

Dr. Omar Kittaneh, head of the Palestinian Energy Agency in Ramallah, said Tuesday that he had been told by the Office of [Israeli] Government Activities in the Territories that 700,000 liters would be delivered on Tuesday, again on Thursday, and then again on Sunday – for a total of 2.1 million liters of fuel.

Rafiq Maliha, project manager at the plant in Gaza, reported that Israel delivered 765,000 liters of the industrial diesel fuel needed to run the plant on Tuesday.

Maliha, in Gaza, said he had been instructed to operate two turbines at full loads, producing 65 MW.

Maliha also said on Tuesday that he had been told that the Israelis would try to deliver a little more than 700,000 liters that day, if possible. In the end, nearly 10% additional did come in.

But, Maliha said, the plant then received 180,000 cubic liters on Wednesday. And today, Thursday, the plant received 315,000 cubic liters — still well short of the 700,000 liters promised by today.

The plant began to power up just after noon on Tuesday, after the resumed fuel delivery.If the plant had run the two gas turbines at full load since then, it would be totally out of fuel again tomorrow morning, Friday.

Dr. Maliha said he had no idea if more fuel will be delivered on Friday or not.

Normally, there are no fuel deliveries on Friday or Saturday.

In this chaotic situation, the decision had been made to cut back output to 45 MW only.

Even so, Maliha said, “We cannot continue operations until Sunday. Right now, it is very difficult for us to plan. We received fuel today, and we are operating today. We are just using what we receive”.

The Coastal Municipalities Water Utilities reports that there is a shortfall of normal diesel fuel affecting its water-pumping and sewage-pumping stations at various places throughout Gaza. The most critical situation concerns the sewage-pumping stations, because sewage flooding can be lethal in the crowded Gaza Strip.

Maher Najjar of CMWU reports that as of Wednesday, three sewage treatment plants in Rafah (on the border with Egypt) have no fuel. In addition, four water pumps in Jabalia, two in al-Shata, and one in al-Nasser have no fuel. “If we have electricity, we can work”, Najjar explained. But, he said “there is no fuel in the Gaza treatment plant” to run back-up generators, and he said, “we have been dumping raw sewage directly into the sea”. “No fuel — normal diesel fuel — has been delivered to us for a long time”, Najjar added.

Najjar also reported the following:
1.      50% of Gaza city wells are barely operating since there is intermittent electricity, no fuel in most of them or under voltage (the decrease in water production is around 40 %)

2.      There is a fear of flood in sewage pump station 7B tonight

3.      Three sewage pump stations and the Gaza wastewater treatment plant are dumping 40,000 m3 (40,000,000 liters) as raw sewage to the sea.

4.      The level of the North WWTP (waste-water treatment plant) has increased by 15 CM.

Last March, sewage flooding killed six people in Um Nasser, in northern Gaza.

Sari Bashi, Executive Director of GISHA, one of the ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups that has been trying to fight the fuel cuts — and proposed electricity cuts — in the Israeli Supreme Court, reports that the Court has now granted their request for an urgent hearing concerning the present situation on Sunday 27 January at 10 am.