Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza's Paralysis of Lines

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza's Paralysis of Lines

Article excerpt

They wind through Gaza's autumn streets, lines of waiting men and women. A young man wearing pajamas, behind him a thin elderly man wearing a white jalabiya, in front of a young mother holding the hands of her two children and an elderly woman, toothless, tired and desperate. The first of hundreds behind them carrying empty gas cylinders as they wait for the fuel truck at Salah al-Din Road so they can buy propane gas necessary for cooking. It's a commodity easily available in Tel Aviv, but almost impossible to get in Gaza.

"Filling a gas cylinder means I can cook for my children," explains 34-year-old Umm Kareem. A widow, she must bring her children everywhere with her. After waiting in vain yesterday, she has spent seven hours standing in line today, and fears she may again have to return home with an empty cylinder. If so, she will be back in line tomorrow.

"At least I have my children," she says, "and we have falafel as emergency food when I can't cook for them."

People used to be able to pay a gas distributor to collect and fill their empty canisters, but the distributor no longer provides that service after constant complaints about gas cylinders remaining unfilled for a month or more because of insufficient supplies.

Fuel shortages are a chronic problem for Gaza's 1.7 million imprisoned residents. Israel controls the entry of all fuel supplies into the Gaza Strip. Israelis living just a few miles away enjoy plentiful supplies and easy access to fuel, while in Gaza fuel for home heating, emergency generators, vehicles and cooking are dependent on infrequent deliveries. Often only smuggled fuel is available-and fuel coming through Israel is unaffordable.

According to Mohammed El-Abadla, a board member of the Gas Station Owners Association, "Israel allows limited amounts of cooking gas [into Gaza], which does not meet consumption needs." El-Abadla estimates that Gaza requires 300 tons of fuel daily; Israel permits just 170 tons or less to enter the blockaded Strip. Exacerbating the scarcity, it closed the crossings into Gaza completely during the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Chronic Shortages

Mustafa Abu Awdah, who is in his mid-50s, continues to try to beat the queue. The earlier he arrives, however, the longer the line seems to be. "This is the sixth time I have come here this week," he says, "but when I get to the front the distributor says it's all gone for the day."

Adds a young man carrying an empty canister: "It seems that people don't sleep anymore, coming here as early as 4 a.m. to stand in line."

Jehad Agha had some success, managing to fill half a cylinder before the distributor announced the gas was gone. He, too, had arrived at dawn, and waited in line until dusk. While he had something to show for his effort, it was still not enough to meet his family's needs.

Hatem Owidah, Gaza's deputy minister of economy, confirms that supplies do not meet the population's basic needs. Gazans also must contend with similarly short supplies of electricity, enduring power outages that can last up to 16 hours a day. One woman in the gas line at Salah al-Din Road admits she burns everything from wood and paper to caustic plastic materials just to be able to cook food for her family.

Everything in Gaza seems to require waiting in a long, long line: food rations, travel permits-even to get health care outside Gaza-higher education, picking up your paycheck (if you're lucky enough to have a job). …

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