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Palestinian women walk along unlit street in Gaza during power blackout. Photo by Mohammed Salem, Reuters, 11 Jan. 2017
From the field

Israel cannot shirk its responsibility for Gaza’s electricity crisis

Gaza’s electricity crisis, a source of great hardship to over a million and a half Palestinians, has grown worse in the past couple weeks, so that residents now get power for just three to four hours out of every twenty-four. The reduced power supply is partly the result of the trouble that Gaza’s electric authority has in purchasing enough diesel to run the power station, due to a financial dispute between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip over payment of fuel taxes imposed by Israel.

This dispute may soon be resolved, but the present crisis is simply an extreme version of the ongoing situation in the Gaza Strip, where residents have not had a consistent power supply for years, and lengthy blackouts are a daily occurrence. Therefore, even if the current dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is resolved, Gaza residents will remain without access to a regular supply of electricity, a basic right that is considered a given, certainly in developed twenty-first century countries.

Gaza receives its electricity from three sources: Israel, Egypt and its own power station. Since 2006 when it was the target of an Israeli air strike, the power station has been able to operate at half capacity only. Its operation is also hindered by financial difficulties, including disagreements between the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and Ramallah regarding payment for diesel, as well as difficulties collecting payment for electricity from Gaza residents, who have trouble meeting the cost. These difficulties were exacerbated when Egypt shut down the tunnels running under its border with Gaza in July 2013, leaving Israel as the sole supplier of fuel, at triple the cost of Egyptian fuel.

The irregular supply of electricity has devastating repercussions: Routine power cuts harm medical equipment, and hospitals are forced to rely on generators and cut back on services, including deferring non-urgent surgeries and discharging patients early. The disruptions also prevent regular operation and use of water pumps and wells, detrimentally impacting public institutions and residential water supply, which has been dramatically reduced. As a result, residents are forced to rely on private vendors who supply poorer quality water. Sewage treatment plants cannot operate normally and treatment cycles have been shortened, resulting in the flow of only partially treated sewage into the sea.

Moreover, power outages keep Gaza residents from leading a normal routine in a world where reliance on a regular supply of electricity is a basic right. Washing machines, refrigerators, electric water heaters and many other appliances - an inseparable part of the lives of billions of people the world over, including just mere kilometers away from Gaza - cannot be used normally or regularly in Gaza. They can be run only in the few hours during which electricity is available.

Israel continues to control what happens in Gaza even after implementing its disengagement plan in 2005 and, therefore, bears significant responsibility for this state of affairs:

  • Israel prevents the repair and restoration of the power station it bombed in 2006, keeping it from operating at full capacity.
  • Israel compels Gaza residents to purchase Israeli fuel exclusively, and to so for the same price paid inside Israel. The immense disparity between the economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel’s means that both the Palestinian authorities and Palestinian private individuals have difficulty meeting the cost and are unable to buy sufficient amounts of diesel.
  • Israel delays or prevents repairs to the power grid and imposes restrictions on bringing spare parts into Gaza. It also impedes repairs to Gaza infrastructure damaged in Israeli raids, as well as preventing upgrades to dated infrastructure.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, was quick to deny any responsibility for the current electricity crisis, placing the blame squarely on the Hamas regime. Maj. Gen. Mordechai said that Hamas leaders use the money they collect for electricity for personal gain and to fund military equipment, remarking that the tunnels get a constant supply of electricity.

Nevertheless, the irregular supply of electricity in the Gaza Strip is primarily a direct result of official Israeli policy. This year will mark a decade since Israel imposed a blockade Gaza. Israel could change this policy and significantly improve quality of life in Gaza, or, it could continue this cruel, unjustifiable policy.