Human Rights WatchGaza Fuel Cuts

Gaza Fuel Cuts: Civilians Pay the Price

Photos Show Impact on Daily Life

(Jerusalem/New York, April 23, 2008) – Over the past two years, Israel has used various means to reduce the supply of electricity and fuel to the Gaza Strip, starting with bombing the only power station in June 2006. In October 2007, Israel began restricting shipments of gasoline, diesel and other fuels. Israel’s control of Gaza’s borders and its refusal to allow the movement of goods across the border with Egypt – with Egyptian complicity – means that these essential goods are only available from Israel.

Israel’s stated goal is to exert pressure on Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, to stop firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian-populated areas in Israel – attacks that constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law. But the energy cuts have had no discernible impact on Hamas’s ability to carry out these attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Instead, they have had a terrible impact on civilian life in Gaza, crippling sanitation facilities and curtailing access to schools, hospitals, and other services essential for the civilian population.

Deliveries of gasoline and diesel in March 2008 were 80 percent and 57 percent lower respectively compared to March 2007, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Gaza. There have been no gasoline deliveries since March 18, 2008, and no deliveries of ordinary diesel since April 2, 2008.

The restrictions on electricity and fuel to an effectively occupied territory amount to collective punishment of the civilian population, a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Unlawful attacks by one side to a conflict do not justify unlawful actions by the other.

Recent attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed factions on the Israel-Gaza crossings, for the stated purpose of breaking Israel’s blockade, have led to further interruptions and worsened the fuel crisis. An April 9, 2008 attack by Palestinian militants on the Nahal Oz fuel terminal – the only crossing where Israel permits fuel delivery – killed two Israeli civilians. Since then, Israel has continued to block all supplies of gasoline and ordinary diesel, which is used for electric power generators as well as vehicles. These fuel cuts have brought transportation in Gaza to a virtual halt. On April 23, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced that it would have to halt its food assistance program to 650,000 refugees owing to the fuel crisis.

For several days beginning on April 16, Israel allowed delivery of some cooking oil. It has also permitted some shipment of industrial diesel, but only about 65 percent of the minimum required for the power plant to function, according to UN officials in Gaza. To make matters worse for Gaza residents, a strike by Gaza’s gasoline station owners since April 7, 2008, to protest Israel’s fuel cuts, has effectively removed the already scarce supplies of diesel and gasoline from Gaza’s retail market.

The strike has not affected industrial diesel supplies, funded by the European Union; whatever Israel allows to enter is delivered directly to Gaza’s power plant. However, on April 22 the manager of the power plant said the plant would have to cease operations the next evening unless sufficient supplies were delivered. On April 23, Israel agreed to deliver about 260,000 gallons of diesel fuel, enough to run the power plant for at least three days.

Israel’s policy of restricting essential fuel supplies, aggravated by Palestinian militants’ attacks and the gasoline station owners’ strike, has throttled Gaza’s economic life. This slideshow, featuring photos taken by a Human Rights Watch researcher in mid-April 2008, illustrates some of the ways that Gaza residents are bearing the brunt of these severe restrictions on energy supplies. Public transport has nearly stopped as fuel becomes unavailable and prices soar. Children cannot get to school and medical personnel have trouble getting to hospitals and clinics. Car owners have converted their engines to run on cooking oil. The distribution of food aid has been curtailed due to lack of fuel.

 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
Gas stations in Gaza have been closed since April 7, 2008. The United Nations says limited fuel supplies are having “a severe impact upon daily life for the population, and UN operations.”
 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
Rocket attacks on Israeli border posts by Palestinian militants and a strike by gas station owners to protest the Israeli restrictions has exacerbated the problem. The owners say they are delivering to hospitals and other essential facilities.
 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society has limited fuel reserves. It has reduced its services to emergency cases. Doctors and health care professionals face problems getting to work due to limited public transportation.
 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
Car mechanics are doing a brisk business converting car engines to run on cooking gas because gasoline is in low supply.
 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
School children are walking long distances or not making it to school because transportation has been greatly reduced. Universities have cancelled classes.
 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
Few trucks are on Gaza’s roads. Fuel shortages are affecting an already crippled economy.
 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch
A main street near Jabaliya on a morning of April 12, 2008 is virtually empty due to severe shortages of gasoline.
All photos 2008 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch