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“Gaza Strip is not occupied,” says Israel’s Supreme Court, as Gaza is thrown into darkness

I just read the Ahmed decision by the Supreme Court of Israel. This case involves a petition filed in 2007 by the Palestinians against the State of Israel regarding the reduction of fuel supplies and electricity to the Gaza Strip.  Recently, the American Friends Service Committee prepared a short description of the problem here.

In 2005, Israel removed its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip. The Supreme Court concluded that “Israel no longer has effective control over what happens in the Gaza Strip” and so “Israel does not have a general duty to ensure the welfare of the residents of the Gaza Strip or to maintain public order in the Gaza Strip according to the laws of belligerent occupation in international law.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Israel, in part because

(1) Israel asserts it is monitoring the fuel supplies and electricity delivery to the Gaza Strip to meet the humanitarian needs of the people in Gaza;

(2) Israel says that the Palestinian officials have the capability to manage the load reduction;

(3) it’s better that the parties negotiate between themselves regarding the issue of fuel delivery and electricity; and

(4) there is a big distinction between the parties — one is fighting in the name of the law (Israel) and the other is fighting against the law (terrorists = Hamas).

Quick Facts • Less than half–only 45 percent—of Gaza’s power needs are now being met. Rolling blackouts leave residents with only six to eight hours of power each day. • Since 2013, the Gaza power plant has operated at less than half capacity. The plant regularly has to shut down, due to fuel shortages caused by Israeli restrictions on importing fuel. • Since 2010, at least 29 people—24 of them children— have died in Gaza from fires or suffocation directly linked to power outages. • Over 70 percent of Gaza households have access to piped water for only six to eight hours once every two to four days, because of the limited power supply.

I find the Ahmed decision troubling for several reasons:

(1) The Supreme Court’s rather cursory conclusion that Israel does not occupy the Gaza Strip. No occupation = no duty under the international laws of belligerent occupation. This conclusion appears to have been reached without arguments proffered by the parties on this very important issue, and almost as a side note to the court’s decision.

(2) The Supreme Court’s characterization of the parties in the case — one is law-abiding and fighting to preserve the law, while the other is a terrorist organization fighting against the law — demonstrates the inherent bias and lack of judicial neutrality that permeates the decision. The Supreme Court also demonstrates its lack of objectivity when it cites with approval Israel’s statement that the Palestinians are capable of managing the load reduction so as not to harm hospitals, etc., while dismissing without discussion the contrary arguments made by the Palestinians.

(3) While the Supreme Court acknowledges that Israel has a responsibility to meet the “essential humanitarian needs of the civilian population” in Gaza, it doesn’t provide any guidance about what constitutes “essential humanitarian needs” and appears to defer to Israel’s assertion that the State recognizes its responsibility and will monitor the delivery of electricity and fuel so as to meet its responsibility. (That must be cold comfort to the civilians sitting in the dark on a cold winter night in Gaza, or to the children who have died in house fires due to the candles.)

(4) The issue of the nexus between Israel’s rationale for reducing the electricity and fuel to Gaza seems to be accepted carte blanche by the Court without any critical examination. Israel says its “decision to limit the supply of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip was made in the framework of the State’s operations against the ongoing terrorism.” Doesn’t Israel have a duty to show the Court a nexus —- that the reduction of electricity and fuel has some measurable impact on reducing the terrorism (rockets)? If there is no nexus, then isn’t it fair to say that Israel’s actions, in fact, constitute collective punishment against the civilian population?

• Hospitals provide only limited services because they rely on generators, which produce insufficient and unstable electrical supplies that can damage sensitive equipment. • Up to 90 million liters of untreated sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea each day in part due to electrical and fuel shortages. • Schools often function without electricity, leaving students in the dark, making many educational activities impossible, and negatively affecting students’ learning environments. • Businesses and industry can’t function without reliable electrical supplies, increasing unemployment and further destabilizing the Gaza economy.

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