Last Monday Israel’s security cabinet approved the Palestinian Authority’s request to cut Gaza’s electric supply by 40 percent, meaning even shorter periods of electricity for the citizens who have been suffering the devastating effects of a ten-year blockade implemented by the Israeli and Egyptian governments after Hamas won elections in 2007.
Although they have been sanctioned by the US and Israel, the Palestinian Authority are currently inflicting the worst damage on citizens of Gaza. Israel technically maintains indirect control over the strip via its border and airspace and uses this to stifle the economic development of the region. However, the PA are in charge of administering the region’s resources and are purposefully impeding their supply of utilities.
This has naturally led some to accuse the PA of spitefully leveraging a humanitarian crisis in Gaza in order to oust their rivals Hamas from the region.
“We get around four hours of electricity a day now, but still even when the electricity is working, it cuts every half hour for ten to thirty minutes,” says Majda Tantesh of Beit Lahia city in the northern Gaza Strip .
Gazans are the quintessential victims of multiple sides of unscrupulous authority. Caught between the intensely violent and radical Islamic Hamas who became a shadow of the party they elected, the heavy-handed state of Israel, and the power-hungry political opportunists of the Palestinian Authority, they are the perennial pawns in a cruel game of political chess.
“It’s very hard because it’s summer now and so hot here. We need air conditioning, we need fans, we need the refrigerator — we’re always throwing away food because there is no electricity. Our food is constantly going bad and I have to throw it out” Majda claims.
Earlier this month, Israeli blog Mondoweiss received leaked documents detailing the correspondence between the PA’s Minister of Finance and Planning, Shukry Bishara and Israel’s Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon.
In the letters, Bishara requested that the electric supply, controlled by Israel and paid for by the PA, not be allowed to exceed 25 million shekels ($7.1 million), which will mean a 40 percent cut in Gaza’s electricity.
“The parties responsible for the collection of electricity dues in the Gaza Strip have systematically failed to reimburse the PA for the cost incurred on their behalf,” the PA minister wrote. “Accordingly, it should be clear to all concerned [parties]that we have reached a stage where this state of affairs is no longer acceptable.”
It is, however, impossible to foresee how an impoverished strip with no sovereign resources can possibly pay the PA’s demands when its borders and airspace are restricted by Egyptian and Israeli military forces who are as determined as the PA to ensure that the Hamas-led mutineer region does not succeed.
A classic Catch-22.
In the letter, dated May 15, the PA minister asked for the cuts to be implemented within the week. So far the cuts have not yet been implemented, but are expected to incur in the very near future.
The electricity cuts comes amid failed attempts of unity talks between the Fatah-led PA government and the Hamas-led government of Gaza. While the Palestinian people feel united across Gaza and the West Bank, the divisions between the two rival political parties are about to make life for the 2 million people in Gaza even more desperate.
“Everyone is feeling bad here, and expecting more bad to come with the current political situation going on now. It’s a very hard situation,” said Majda. “It is already hard and it will soon become much worse. I am thinking to try and buy solar panels to store the electricity because we can’t live without it. We need electricity for our daily life. My daughter goes to college and she needs to use the computer to make reports. We barely have enough time with power to charge our phones as it is.”
It is likely, however, that the price of alternative energy sources such as solar panels will inflate well beyond affordability for ordinary Palestinians if the electricity blockade continues. Gazan imports are strenuously restricted by Israel and Egypt.
In addition to the small scale effects of the power cuts, Gaza is already suffering from lack of power for its water and sewage systems, which are paralyzed without electricity, and result in raw sewage being dumped straight into the Mediterranean coast.
— Muhammad Smiry| Gaza (@MuhammadSmiry) June 12, 2017
Last month, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that the cuts would end up “plunging [Gaza’s] population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The power plant, that supplies 30 percent of Gaza’s electricity, stopped functioning on 16 April, due to a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over taxation on fuel,” Mladenov said in a statement. “The lines supplying power from Egypt into Gaza are often down for technical reasons. This leaves Israeli power lines, which provide some 60 percent of Gaza’s electricity, as the only reliable energy source. Meanwhile the Palestinian Government has decided to cap its purchase of electricity from Israel for Gaza.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem on Tuesday decried the power cuts, and called on Israel not to “shirk” its responsibilities in the Strip.
“Despite [the]intolerable reality [in Gaza], the Israeli cabinet has decided to accept the Palestinian Authority’s cruel plan to further reduce the power supply to Gaza. Should the Israeli decision be implemented, the situation in Gaza will deteriorate even further, making the area virtually unlivable,” the group said.
“This is not some sort of natural disaster. Had that been the case, Israel would have likely sent in a humanitarian aid mission. Instead, the reality in Gaza is the result of Israel’s handiwork, achieved by its decade-long implementation of a brutal policy. Israel can, and must, change this reality.”
The sheer hopelessness of the situation is depressing to witness, but it creates a doggedness and belligerence in the victims that is difficult not to admire.
“It’s going to be scary situation, but here people when people talk about it they are hopeful,” she said. “We say God willing things will get better — there’s nothing else we can do about it.”
The Palestinian Authority, Israel, and Egypt must all be held accountable.
Leak of Nations | Gaza Strip – Palestine