note: inaccuracies dealing with currency conversions were included in this report but corrected in a subsequent PCHR paper available here.
At midnight on Friday, 25 June 2010, the operation of Gaza Power Plant stopped as the industrial fuel necessary for its operation to produce 65 megawatts of electricity ran out. The stoppage of the operation of the plant coincided with a wave of hot weather in the Gaza Strip and seriously impacted basic services provided to 1.7 million Palestinians, including drinking water and health and sanitation services. The stoppage also caused extreme suffering to at least 36,860 students who have been attending final exams of the Genera Certificate of Education (Tawjihi) since 12 June 2010. Electricity outages increased from 8-12 hours to 10-16 hours daily in most areas in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) calls upon both governments in Ramallah and Gaza to prioritize the interests of the population, including the transfer of parts of the funds collected by the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza to the Energy Authority in Ramllah, to ensure enough supplies of industrial fuel to operate Gaza Power Plant, in accordance with the April 2010 agreement between the two sides.
According to PCHR's field observations of the electricity crisis in Gaza, the operation of Gaza Power Plant stopped on Friday midnight, 25 June 2010, as the supplies of industrial fuel needed for its operation ran out. Eng. Cana'an 'Obaid, Deputy Head of the Energy Authority in Gaza, stated the authorities in Ramallah were responsible for repeated stoppages of Gaza Power Plant through not fully paying the costs of industrial fuel to the supplying Israeli fuel company.
On the other hand, Dr. 'Omar Kittana, Head of the Energy Authority in Ramallah, stated to a PCHR researcher that coping with the current crisis requires that the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza be committed to transfering the funds it is required to pay as its contribution to the costs of industrial fuel needed for the operation of one generator in the plant. He also demanded that the company enhance the efficiency of collecting fees for electricity, explaining that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) pays the costs of electricity supplies imported from the Israeli side and from Egypt and a part of the cost of the industrial fuel and maintenance, which means that the PNA covers 85% of the costs of electricity in Gaza. He further called for implementing the April 2010 agreement, which obligates the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza to pay approximately US$ 4 million in contribution to the costs of the industrial fuel needed for the operation one generator in Gaza Power Plant. He stressed that no money transfers have been made this month.
PCHR has made contacts with all concerned parties in Gaza and Ramallah and followed up their positions expressed in the media. PCHR has been able to obtain information and data that can serve as a basis for a crucial solution for the crisis of electricity outages and the stoppage of Gaza Power Plant:
· Mr. Jamal al-Dirdissawi, Public Relations Officer in the Electricity Distribution Company in the Gaza Strip, stated that the current electricity crisis has been the most extreme, as electricity is cut off for 12 hours a day after 6 hours of availability.
· Mr. al-Dirdissawi stated that the cost of electricity supplies for the Gaza Strip is estimated at 50 million NIS: 35-40 million NIS electricity supplies imported from Israel; 3.2-3.5 million NIS for electricity supplies imported from Egypt; 10 million NIS for industrial fuel designed for the operation of Gaza Power Plant.
· Mr. Hani Salman, Financial Officer of the Electricity Distribution Company, stated that fees collected by the company each month are estimated at 15-20 million NIS, while the expenditures of the company are estimated at 3.5-4 million NIS. He added that 22 million NIS has been transferred to the Energy Authority in Ramallah since the beginning of 2010; the last transfer was 2 million NIS this month.
· Dr. Ghassan al-Khatib, Spokesman of the Government in Ramallah, stated that the current crisis of the industrial fuel for Gaza Power Plant is fabricated for political purposes related to making use of the suffering of people to gain support and incite against the PNA. He confirmed that the PNA "covers 95-97% of the costs of energy consumed in Gaza, both that imported from Israel and Egypt and that produced in the Gaza Strip, where 1.5 million people live." He added that the Gaza population's contribution to the total cost of electricity supplies "does not exceed 3-5%."
· Eng. Suhail Skaik, Director-General of the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza, stated the electricity outage crisis, which the people in Gaza have been suffering from for approximately 6 months, has peaked as the daily outage will increase to 16 hours daily because of the stopped operation of Gaza Power Plant. He called for keeping the energy sector separate from ongoing factional differences. He further called on alls parties to make efforts to put an end for the suffering of the Gaza Strip under the siege and the electricity crisis, which impacts all aspects of life, as the deficit in electricity supplies has amounted to 60%.
· Eng. Skaik emphasized that the Ministry of Finance in Ramllah has been paying the costs of electricity supplies for the Gaza Strip from the three sources. He added that his company was supposed to transfer US$ 4 million to the PNA this month, but it transferred only US$ 2 million.
· It is worth noting that an agreement was concluded between the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza and the Palestinian Energy Authority in Ramallah on 11 April 2010, under the auspices of representatives of Palestinian factions and independent figures. Under the agreement, the Energy Authority in Ramallah would pay 36 million NIS for the cost of the industrial fuel purchased to operate Gaza Power Plant; on the other hand, the Electricity Distribution Company would transfer the fees it collects from the population in Gaza after discounting operational expenditures.
· The Electricity Distribution Company suffers from an increasing deficit as at least 60% of the beneficiaries in the Gaza Strip do not pay their accumulating debts owed to the company. These debts have amounted to 3 billion NIS, which has made the company unable to pay the costs of electricity produced by Gaza Power Plant. On the other hand, thousands of beneficiaries, including public figures, politicians, businesspeople, traders and employees in governmental and non-governmental organizations, do not pay accumulated debts owed to the company although they can pay. They believe that the European Union provides Gaza Power Plant with industrial fuel for its operations, which has encouraged them to abstain from paying electricity bills.
The suffering of the Gaza Strip population has aggravated due to the deterioration of electricity services, which coincided with a wave of extreme hot weather. Many people expressed their dismay for being pushed into the political conflict between the Gaza and Ramallah governments, especially as the current crisis coincides with the final exams of the General Certificate of Education (Tawjihi). Due to the electricity outages, many areas suffered from extreme disruption in water supplies. There are also concerns that access of people to basic services, such as health, education and sanitation, may be impacted.
PCHR is gravely concerned over the catastrophic consequences of that may result from the suspension of basic services in the Gaza Strip due to electricity outages, especially health, water and sanitation services.
PCHR has concluded the following:
· The total money transfers from the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza to the Energy Authority in Ramallah since the beginning of 2010, according to sources of the company itself, have been 22 million NIS, which constitutes 40% of the cost of industrial fuel for one month.
· According to the financial officer of the company, the Electricity Distribution Company collects 15-20 million NIS from beneficiaries in the Gaza Strip each month, average of 87.5 million NIS in the first five months of 2010. On the other hand, the company operational expenditures are estimated at 3.5-4 million NIS, which means that the company expended an average of 18.75 million NIS in the first five months of 2010.
· Accordingly, the company has a surplus of 68.75 million NIS after discounting operational expenditures. The question here is: Does the company have the surplus in its accounts? If yes, why does not it transfer such money, or at least the US$4 million monthly pay according to the April agreement?
· PCHR reiterates that the government in Gaza has a duty to coordinate and cooperate with the Electricity Distribution Company in Gaza to collect accumulated debts from beneficiaries who are able to pay, including politicians, business people, traders, employees and governmental and non-governmental organizations, who have high accumulated debts, as a first step towards pressuring other beneficiaries to pay. This measure will constitute a part of a strategic solution for the chronic electricity crisis, regardless of the availability of external funding.
· PCHR calls upon the electricity distribution company to upheld the beneficiaries' right to obtain information on the electricity crisis, including the publication of names of people who do not pay highly accumulated fees, even though they are able to.
PCHR believes that people who pay electricity fees regularly should not endure the result of the failure of concerned parties of the electricity crisis, as these parties must provide them with electricity supplies in all circumstances. PCHR is fully aware that the ongoing siege that has been imposed by Israeli occupation authorities for three years has created catastrophic economic situations for thousands of families, making them unable to pay the costs of electricity supplies; thus there is a need to reconsider mechanisms of assistance to such families, in which costs of electricity supplies should be taken into consideration in order for the electricity fees be paid to the Electricity Distribution Company.
PCHR Calls for the Immediate and Complete End of the Illegal Closure of Gaza
Date: 24 June 2010
Time: 14:00 GMT
Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to an illegal closure policy since 1991. This policy’s current, most extreme form has been applied continuously for over three years following the Hamas takeover in June 2007. This closure constitutes a form of collective punishment and has completely cut off Gaza from the outside world.
Palestinian civilians in Gaza are deprived of their fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of moment, and are deliberately and systematically denied access to the most basic needs, such as food, medicine and electricity. By enforcing this illegal policy Israel has manufactured a chronic and completely preventable humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The current situation is the direct result of Israel’s long-standing violations of international law, in particular the State’s disregard for its obligations as an Occupying Power. Despite condemning the closure, the international community has failed to take necessary action to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians and hold Israel accountable under international law.
The attack on the 'Gaza Freedom Flotilla' on 31 May 2010, which resulted in the killing of nine civilians in international waters, has focused the world’s attention on the suffering of the Palestinian population of Gaza. As a reaction to this tragic recent event, new international pressure has been exerted on Israel in order to put an end to the closure and its fatal consequences.
On 14 June, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a critically important report, which highlighted the illegality of the closure and called upon the international community to uphold its obligation to "ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded."
As acknowledged by the ICRC, the closure constitutes a form of collective punishment of the civilian population, which is clearly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This closure regime also violates a number of other principles of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the right to life, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to freedom of movement of persons and goods, the right to adequate shelter. Ultimately, the closure violates the right of the Gaza people to live in human dignity.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) emphasizes that in order to put an end to this dire situation a dramatic change is needed. Measures to ease the blockade announced by Israel in recent days are purely cosmetic and will not represent any significant improvement.
According to media reports - and in line with a proposal put forward by the Quartet Representative to the Middle East, Tony Blair - Israel is planning to expand the list of permitted goods into Gaza moving from a list of permitted items to one of prohibited items; this measure is not adequate and does not represent any substantial change to the current illegal policy. Israel’s proposal is only shifting attention from the real problems and does not deal with the root causes of the crisis.
Israel’s proposed easing of the blockade fails to address the necessary measures to restart the economy of Gaza, such as the import of fuel and construction materials or the export of products from the Strip. Expanding the list of permitted items cannot improve the situation unless it is accompanied by the unconditional opening of all border crossings of the Gaza Strip.
PCHR stresses that the alleged easing of the closure fails to address the most important issue: the freedom of movement of the imprisoned Palestinian population of Gaza.
The 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip have the legitimate right to live normal, dignified lives, to enjoy freedom of movement and to have access to work, education and medical treatment.
"The siege has transformed the Gaza Strip into an animal farm" forcefully notes Raji Sourani, Director of PCHR. "The risk is that Gaza is just passing to another form of illegal blockade, one that may become internationally accepted and institutionalized."
The Quartet noted that the situation of the civilian population of Gaza is unsustainable, unacceptable and cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid; as confirmed by the ICRC, there is no sustainable solution other than the complete, immediate lifting of the closure.
The whole international community must act decisively in order to put an end to the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, and to ensure civilians legitimate human rights.