Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Electricity Blackout in Gaza, Media Blackout Everywhere Else

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Electricity Blackout in Gaza, Media Blackout Everywhere Else

Article excerpt

"I am just returning from a long day of work," explains 34-year-old father of two Osama Abdullah. "I want to shower, but the electricity is off." After a short pause, he explains: "To get water up to your house, you need an electricity generator."

"I have dragged in a few bottles of water," he adds, which he tries to boil so he can have hot water for washing and cleaning. But this evening he faces yet another problem: the propane gas tank used to heat water and cook the family meals is also empty.

"For the past few days, we have been running near empty on cooking gas," he explains. "But what can you do?"

Unfortunately, Abdullah is far from the only one of the 1.7 million Palestinians living in Gaza who faces this problem. Many of his neighbors and colleagues at work confront the same nightmare: lack of such basic necessities as electricity, water, cooking gas and fuel.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than 40 percent of households in Gaza receive running water for a mere six to eight hours-every four days.

In addition, the fuel crisis has severely disrupted the transportation of people and goods alike in the Gaza Strip, where there are around 60,000 vehicles, requiring an average of 300,000 liters of fuel a day. Yet, according to Mahmoud Al-Shawa, director of Gaza's Gas Station Owners Union, the amount of fuel coming through the Israeli-controlled Nahal Oz crossing in northern Gaza meets only 10 percent of the market's need. Al-Shawa called on the international community to "pressure Israel and rescue Gaza" by allowing the promised 700,000 liters a day-200,000 of benzine and 500,000 of diesel oil-into the Gaza Strip.

Nor is the effect of the scarcity limited to cars and trucks. Hundreds of bakeries need fuel and electricity to bake bread for the people of Gaza-who, for the past several months, have had to contend with daily electricity blackouts lasting up to 18 hours.

Due to the chronic fuel shortage caused by Israel's ongoing siege of Gaza and exacerbated by Egypt's February mandate that all fuel imports go only through official Israeli-controlled channels, Gaza Power Plant administrators have had to operate at one-third capacity or risk shutting down completely.

Prior to Egypt's February clampdown, much of the gas fueling Gaza's electricity plants was smuggled in through the tunnels (see Jan./Feb. 2009 Washington Report, p. 19). Now, however, Egypt's military government requires that all fuel go through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing near the Gaza-Egyptian border, leaving residents of Gaza at the mercy of Israeli soldiers and bureaucrats-as well as hostage to decades of unreliability and animosity at the border.

"I can't wait for an Israeli solider to decide whether I should have electricity or not!" a tunnel owner in Gaza exclaims in frustration.

Ismail Haniyeh, de facto prime minster of Gaza's Hamas-led government, told reporters on March 2 that getting fuel through the Kerem Shalom would be extremely expensive and dangerous. That particular border crossing is a highly contentious one where hostilities-whether between Israeli troops and Palestinians or Egyptian soldiers and Bedouin smugglers-can break out at any moment.

"Is it possible that Gaza remains without electricity one year after the Egyptian revolution?" Haniyeh asked in disbelief.

What he neglected to mention, however, is that the tax revenues collected on oil imported through the Israeli-controlled crossing would go to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, not to the de facto government in Gaza, thus drastically reducing the latter's financial revenues. …

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