On Thursday, 17 January 2008, the defense minister announced an increase in sanctions against the Gaza Strip, following massive firing of Qassam rockets on Israeli communities. This announcement contradicts the state's recent statement to the High Court on 10 January, that the quota on industrial diesel fuel allowed to enter the Gaza Strip would be returned to the level prior to the sanctions. Following the announcement, Israeli and Palestinian organizations this morning petitioned the High Court to issue an interim order requiring Israel to allow renewal of the supply. This request was filed as part of a petition against the sanctions on the Gaza Strip, from October 2007.
According to Dr. Rafiq Maliha of the Palestinian Electric Company, the company has had to totally shut down the power station due to lack of fuel. As a result, the power supply in the Gaza Strip has been cut by 32 percent, causing a blackout in wide parts of the area. The power shortage in the Gaza Strip now stands at 43 percent of demand.
The power station supplies electricity to institutions that provide vital services to the residents, such as Shifa Hospital (the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip), the sewage treatment facility in Gaza City, and dozens of wells, sewage pumps, medical clinics, and schools. The hospitals have generators, but they are unable to produce the requisite amount of electricity, and the interruption in power supply causes a variety of malfunctions, inevitably harming the patients. The residents also suffer severe cutbacks in water supply. In Gaza City, for example, the residents do not have running water eight hours a day.
In an interim decision, given on 30 November, the High Court postponed its decision on the gradual reduction of electricity from Israel to the Strip and requested the State Attorney's Office to provide additional explanations and statistics regarding the reduction plan and its anticipated effects on the civilian population. On the other hand, the justices did not prevent reduction of fuel. As a result of the decision, electricity supply to Gazans actually fell more than the government had planned as part of the reduction of electricity provided by the Israel Electric Corporation.
The industrial diesel fuel imported from Israel is used solely to operate the single power station in the Strip, which until recently supplied about one-third of the Strip's electricity. The other two-thirds are supplied by Israel (59 percent) and Egypt (8 percent). Although the reduction in the import of the diesel fuel took effect in October, the drop in electricity production began only in January 2008, when the electric company's reserves of diesel fuel became depleted. As a result of the reduction in imported diesel fuel, production in the Gaza Electric Company fell by 35 percent and electricity supply in the Strip dropped 11 percent.
In the October 2007 petition, the petitioners argued that the measures were liable to create extensive humanitarian harm, and even endanger human life. They further argued that Israel's intentional harm to civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is patently illegal, and that the action constitutes prohibited collective punishment. The state's action is especially wrongful given the Gazans' almost total dependence on Israel for electricity and fuel, a result of the thirty-eight years of Israel's direct control over of the Strip. This dependence has grown since June 2006, when Israel bombed the only power station in the Strip. Even though the power station has been rebuilt for the most part, Israel limits its output by restricting the amount of industrial diesel fuel allowed into the Strip, so that only two of the power station's three turbines can operate.