United Nations Warns of Fuel Ban-Related COVID-19 Spike in Gaza

Five Israeli human rights groups have petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to force Israel to rescind its Gaza fuel ban, as the United Nations warns that its absence has exacerbated the COVID-19 crisis. The petition to the HCJ, was filed by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, HaMoked, ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights. They charged that Israel has an obligation under international law and its own administrative rules of the territory to provide the fuel.

Palestinian children use candles to do their homework in an impoverished household in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian children use candles to do their homework in an impoverished household in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Photo: Activestills)

The petition includes affidavits attesting to the profound harm to Gaza’s residents, particularly because of the crisis in the supply of electricity. A physician specializing in pediatric care from Shifa Hospital warns of a rise in infant mortality if the supply of electricity becomes insufficient for operating ventilators, infusion pumps, and other essential equipment. An affidavit by an official at the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility indicates that the continued ban on access to fuel is likely to impair the functioning of water and sewage treatment facilities and preclude sewage disposal, which could lead to flooding and increase the flow of untreated sewage to the sea, putting the environment and public health at risk.

In the petition, the organizations emphasize, “Particularly at this moment of pandemic outbreak, when all indications are of an aggravation of existing humanitarian concerns, there is growing fear of further harm to Gaza’s healthcare system and food security. Despite the obvious hardship, the respondents [Israel’s defense minister and the Israeli military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories] chose to implement additional steps that cause deliberate harm to the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, knowing full well the implications of their decisions and their consequences for Gaza residents.”

“Marking a significant deterioration in the health situation, on August 24, the first cases of COVID-19 outside the quarantine facilities were confirmed,” said Sunday, August 30, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Palestinian occupied territories, Jamie McGoldrick. “Thus far, there are 280 known active cases, 243 of which are from community transmission.”

The situation is made worse by Israel’s decision to ban fuel, necessary for the production of electricity, a utility that is vital to Gaza hospitals for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, McGoldrick explained. The absence of electricity is also harming Gaza’s water supply. At the present, Palestinians in Gaza have electricity for only three hours a day.

Israel has barred the passage of fuel since August 13, and all but humanitarian items into Gaza through its main commercial passage at Kerem Shalom on August 11, in response to continued incendiary balloon and rocket attacks. It also closed the Mediterranean to all Gaza fishermen. The dearth of electricity has hindered services to the COVID-19 quarantine facilities and harmed “the capacity of the health system to cope with the increased demands, such as the ability to detect new COVID-19 cases,” McGoldrick said. “Power outages in hospitals are having serious repercussions, with patients in intensive care, chronic and emergency cases particularly vulnerable.”

In addition, he said, the lack of electricity has harmed other utilities, including the operation of “water wells, sewage pumping stations, wastewater treatment plants, and some desalination plants.” McGoldrick in his statement called on Israel to resume fuel shipments and on Hamas to halt its violence against Israel. “All parties must show utmost restraint and act to protect civilians, with full respect for their dignity and human rights,” he said.