The Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has reported that the Gaza Strip is currently suffering from a 76% deficit in electrical supplies due to the ongoing military action in Gaza by Israel’s forces, which has been codenamed ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’.
The available power supply in the Gaza Strip as of 19 May stands at around 107mw, which is significantly lower than the estimated 400MW that is required to meet the needs of the area. The adverse impacts are multifaceted. For example, due to lack of power supply, three main seawater desalination plants providing services for more than 400,000 people have suspended operation and more than 100,000 cubic metres of untreated or partially treated wastewater are being discharged to the sea daily.
The electricity crisis is inextricably linked to the Closure of Gaza which has been in place since June 2007, and severely restricts the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip through the closure of its border crossings. This closure has had a direct impact on the ability of Gazan residents to import fuel. LPHR has previously prepared a Q&A document on the closure of Gaza, concluding that it is an illegal act of collective punishment.
The result of the closure of Gaza, and the restricted arrangements upon which residents are able to receive electricity (via Egypt, Israel and a single power plant near Gaza City) has meant that the population is inevitably vulnerable to power outages as a result of decisions made by Israel, the Occupying Power.
For example, in the summer of 2017 the Gaza Strip was receiving around 2-4 hours of electricity a day, as a result of a decision by the Israeli Security Cabinet upon request by the Palestinian Authority to reduce the supply of 120MW of electricity down to 70MW per day. In September 2017 LPHR prepared a Q&A document on the Electricity Crisis highlighting that the withholding of electricity to the Gaza Strip, in essence imposing penalties against an entire civilian population, amounted to a form of collective punishment, in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In October 2017, LPHR submitted an urgent letter to the UK government on this issue, and received a response by Alistair Burt, then Minister of State for the Middle East. Notably the response stated:
“We are encouraged by commitments that Israel made in the UN General Assembly in 2016 to improve infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank. This included the construction of the 161 power line to Gaza, and transfer to the Palestinian Authority (PA) of responsibility for managing electricity in the West Bank. The British Government frequently stresses with all relevant parties the importance of the quick implementation of these commitments, and we will continue to monitor this”
Unfortunately, the position for residents of Gaza did not significantly improve within a 6 month period, as UNOCHA reported that in both April and May 2018, the Gaza Strip received on average only 4 hours of electricity per day.
In June 2019, almost two years after Minister Burt’s letter, Reuters reported that an Israeli official stated that Line 161 would take around three years to complete and it was not clear if or when the government might approve it.
The state of electricity in Gaza is often in a state of flux. In June 2019 it was reported to have been receiving around 12 hours of electricity a day in 2019 as a result of Israel permitting Qatari-funded fuel for Gaza’s power station. However a decision made by Israel in August 2020 to ban fuel led to further reduction.
Military Offensive against Gaza from 10 May 2021
The current military action in Gaza has led to a massive deterioration in the electricity crisis, meaning that residents are receiving only 3-4 hours of electricity per day.
One of the reasons for this is the direct result of the military assault impacting the Gazan electricity infrastructure. Six main powerlines have been compromised due to the attacks and technical crews have been prohibited from repairing this damage due to areas being designated as ‘closed military zones’ by the Israeli forces.
The result of these damaged power lines has been to deprive around 230,000 people of electricity in Gaza.
A secondary reason is the closing of the Kerem Shalom crossing by the Israeli authorities, which is the means in which fuel is transported into Gaza.
Impact of the fuel shortages
The effect of the withholding of electricity cannot be understated, it permeates almost every part of life in Gaza. For example, 97% of the water in Gaza in undrinkable. Electricity is needed to run the water desalination and wastewater plants. It is also needed to run refrigerators to preserve food, medicines and mortuaries. In February 2021 LPHR reported on child fatalities arising from the electricity crisis.
The fuel shortage also has a crippling effect on the medical services. Hospitals are under increased strain as they are dealing with fatalities arising out of the current military actions, as well as urgent care that must be delivered to those suffering with COVID-19 and in need of ventilation. This is on top of the basic medical needs of the general population.
The realities of the current context cannot be ignored. According to the United Nations, as of midday of 19 May, the death toll in Gaza stands at 219, including 63 children. Residential buildings and medical facilities, as well as the building housing the Associated Press, have been targeted and destroyed in bombings. Much of this information is known because of the ability of residents in Gaza to film, send and report these incidents of grave concern and public interest. The electricity crisis also threatens to impede the ability of residents of Gaza to stay connected, and to have the means to document developments which may also provide evidence of serious international crimes.
LPHR shares Al Mezan’s condemnation and assessment that the withholding of electricity amounts to implementing collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza in breach of international humanitarian law, and that it forms part of a wider policy and pattern of acts of collective punishment implemented through Israel’s near-14-year imposition of a closure regime on Gaza.