Since the start of winter the electricity cuts in the Gaza Strip have continued to worsen, seriously impacting access to basic human rights of the population of two-million. The current electricity supply stands at four hours, followed by a 12-hour blackout, but on sporadic rotation. The vulnerable populations that live in the hundreds of high-rise building in Gaza face particular difficulty, notably older, sick and disabled people, as elevators are inoperable. The electricity crisis, which is compounded by the lack of fuel on the market, has deepened the severe humanitarian crisis prompted by Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip. Even the basic right to life is jeopardized, as seen through increasing number of deaths, particularly among children, caused by fires that broke out after unsafe and crude means of electricity-alternatives were used in homes that typically fall significantly below the poverty line.
In response to this situation, over the past two days thousands of residents took to the streets in protest against the continued diminishment of electricity supply. However, the Internal Security force, which is operated by the authorities in Gaza, responded by summoning dozens of people for questioning and breaking into houses to arrest people with a view of forcing them to sign an unclear documents committing themselves to “respecting the law” and to abstain from disturbing so-called “public security”. Al Mezan views with much concern this approach, which fails to address the serious electricity problem, and also condemns the efforts to prevent peaceful protests and freedom of expression. Such actions violate Palestinian law and international human rights law, notably the rights to freedom of speech, expression, and to peaceful assembly.
According to Al Mezan's monitoring, in the evening hours of Thursday, 12 January 2017, most of the thousands of people protesting were gathered in Jabaliya refugee camp: the demonstrators walked down Jabaliya’s main streets to the Electricity Company where the police dispersed the demonstrators by shooting in the air and beating people with cudgels. As a result, Mohammed Al Baba, a journalist at Agence France Presse, sustained a cut over his left eye and had his camera confiscated—then returned to him later. The police also assaulted journalist Fares Akram Al Ghoul from the Associated Press. Six other people sustained bruises. The police arrested and issued summons orders to a number of people.
Al Mezan highlights that every person has the right to peacefully protest and exert pressure on decision makers to improve their life conditions; including electricity services. Article 26 of the Palestinian Amended Basic Law grants Palestinians' the right to participate in political life, both individually and collectively, and in particular, Article 2 of the Public Assembly Law of 1998, states that citizens are entitled to freely organize public gatherings. Law enforcement officers should act in accordance with the law and within the authority granted them under the law in relation to the protection of public and personal properties. Law enforcement officers are prohibited from exceeding their power in these areas, in order to protect property rights.
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, restrictions may not be placed on the exercise of these rights, other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others—criteria which are not met in this case.
Al Mezan condemns the continuing electricity crisis and highlights the catalyst of the crisis as the Israeli closure and the absence of Palestinian political unity—leaving aside the matter of the creation of a unity government. The two Palestinian governments must prioritize citizen interests and protect basic services from political disagreements. The governments, concerned authorities, and political parties must take serious and effective steps to solve the electricity crisis, which continues to spiral, year after a year.
Amidst continued blame for the crisis, disregard for responsibility, and the absence of transparency and clarity, Al Mezan calls to: