Providing the population of the Gaza Strip with a 24/7 power supply requires about 600 megawatts of electricity. Yet the Gaza Strip receives only 180 megawatts — 120 directly from Israel via 10 power lines, and 60 generated by Gaza’s power plant with Qatari-funded fuel provided by Israel. As a result, residents usually receive power in eight-hour rotations: eight hours on and eight hours off. In summer, the power can go off for up to 12 hours.
Israel still controls life in Gaza and cannot shirk its responsibility for this reality. Bombing the power plant 14 years ago and preventing its rehabilitation since has limited its capacity to generate electricity. In addition, Israel hampers vital repairs and upgrades to the power system and forces the authorities to buy fuel from Israel alone.
To make matters worse, Israel withholds fuel from the power plant at will, as a form of collective punishment. On 10 August 2020, at the height of a blistering summer, after militants in Gaza continued to launch incendiary and explosive balloons into Israeli territory, Israel decided to close the crossings with Gaza and stop the fuel supply. Within about a week, on 18 August, the power plant shut down due to lack of fuel. This reduced the power supply to residents to a mere four hours a day. Three weeks later, on 1 September, Israel reopened the crossings and the power supply went back to eight-hour rotations.
It is hard to imagine families living several dozen miles from Tel Aviv without regular electricity. With erratic, brief supplies of power, residents cannot lead a reasonable daily routine in a world that relies on electricity for everything from transporting and storing food to work, education, health and communication. Basic appliances such as refrigerators, fans, washing machines and ovens cannot function. The power cuts make life even harder for people with disabilities or medical problems, who rely on a steady supply for treatment. The outages also damage infrastructure – primarily Gaza’s water and sewage systems and the operation of hospitals.
B’Tselem's field researchers collected the following testimonies from residents describing how hard and profoundly frustrating it is to try and maintain a routine in such conditions. These circumstances were not preordained or caused by natural disaster – they are the outcome of a callous, fully intentional Israeli policy.
In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 19 August 2020, Basma Khalil (61), a married mother of 12 from the neighborhood of a-Shuja'iyeh in Gaza City, related:
I live with my husband, Khairi ‘Abd a-Rahman (60), in a two-story building. We live with our four sons, two of whom are married with children. There are 16 of us altogether. My husband’s been unemployed for 20 years.
Ever since Israeli planes bombed the power plant, we’ve had power cuts on top of the water shortage and the suffering Israel’s blockade causes us. Sometimes there’s no power for the whole day, and it only comes on for three or four hours in the evening. Whenever there’s a war, we barely get any. The water supply is also irregular and if it comes on when the power is off, we can’t pump water to the containers on the roof. I feel like the water and the electricity are two parallel lines that never meet!
The situation in Gaza is simply unbearable. The blockade has made things very tough for us financially, and we can’t buy generators to use during the power cuts. The blockade has sent us back to ancient times – we have to use very primitive alternatives, such as kerosene lamps and candles. It’s dangerous and we’ve had more than one fire. Once, I put a candle on the TV and it caught fire.
Most of the household chores require electricity. Also, because of all the power cuts, our appliances often break down. It happens because I turn them all on at once when the power’s on, to get everything done before it goes off again. I clean, bake, cook, iron, turn on the water pump, turn on the sun boiler and charge all of our cellphones – at the same time. Our system can’t handle it, and sometimes it burns appliances.
When the power isn’t on long enough, I have to wash our clothes by hand and bake bread in a traditional oven (taboon). It’s exhausting at my age. Sometimes I stay up late, waiting for the electricity to come on, so I can finish my chores and use the electric pita bread maker. I can barely stay awake.
I bake about 30 to 40 pitas at a time. If the power goes out in the middle, I have to throw the dough out or light a fire to keep baking on the taboon. It’s tiring and stressful. I’ve often had to throw out fruit and vegetables that went bad after a long power cut. I only buy meat on the day I cook it, because I can’t keep it refrigerated. It spoils quickly. The power cuts take a huge toll on me, physically and mentally.
It’s really hard to heat the house in winter and I have to use coal, even though it’s risky. In the summer, it’s boiling hot but we can’t use fans. I have trouble falling asleep and often wake up and splash water on my body. Last night, because there was no power and it was so hot, I slept on the floor. I woke up with back pain. My nephews also can’t sleep in the heat, and sometimes we go out to the street in the middle of the night to get some air.
It’s also hard dealing with the dark. I bought a chargeable LED lamp for the house, but it’s very weak. In the last two days it's been especially difficult because the power only came on for three or four hours. That’s because the power plant shut down after Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing and banned the import of fuel for it.
The school year is starting. My son Ahmad is in the 10th grade and needs light do his homework. When he comes home from school and sees the power is off, he says, “I went to school early in the morning and came back at midday, and the electricity still off! What kind of life is this?!”. He gets really upset, because he’s so frustrated.
There’s no life in Gaza any more. My children always say to me, “We’re sick of this life. How long will we stay like this?”. We live in extreme poverty, and it’s a huge problem. On top of the electricity issue, I feel suffocated. I can’t take this life any more. I have no hope left. I feel like I’m dying a slow death.
All we want is basic things and a normal life: a regular power supply, for my husband and kids to find a job, and of course, for Israel to stop the blockade. A little bit of empathy! We want to enjoy life, see happy days, live with dignity and have the simplest thing – electricity! In this day and age, everything depends on it runs. Electricity is the engine of life. Without it, life comes to a standstill.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 20 August 2020, ‘Abd a-Rahim al-‘Ar’ir (61), an unemployed father of eight from the neighborhood of a-Shuja'iyeh in Gaza City, said:
I live with my wife Shifa (64), our two married sons and their families in a two-story building. We’re 22 people altogether. In 2012, I was on my way to work when the Israeli military fired a tank shell at an area east of our neighborhood. I was hit, along with other passersby. The doctors had to amputate my right leg and I haven’t worked since. I’ve tried to use a prosthesis, but it doesn’t really work. I've undergone heart surgery and have diabetes. To get around daily, I bought an electric mobility scooter for 2,000 dollars. It has to charge about five hours a day.
The scooter means everything to me. It helps me forget that I don’t have a leg. I use it for all my errands, and when I can’t use it because the power's off, I’m paralyzed. I depend on the power supply. Every day, I wait for it to come on so I can charge the scooter.
One problem is that the supply hours are irregular. Sometimes, I stay up all night or get up very early to charge the scooter. I can’t stay home all the time. I drive the scooter to the market to buy our groceries and to pray at the nearest mosque, which is about 500 meters away, five times a day. Sometimes, to save electricity, I stay there from noon prayers to evening prayers.
At the moment, because the power plant is closed, we only get electricity for three or four hours a day, and that’s not enough to fully charge my scooter. If I leave home to go far, I can get stuck with a dead battery. Then I have to call someone with a large car to drive me home with the scooter. It’s exhausting. Sometimes, when I need something urgent and the scooter’s not charged, I use crutches.
When I’m stuck at home because the power’s down, I feel terrible. I can’t afford to buy a generator. Sometimes, when I see the battery’s about to die, I charge the scooter at a friend’s house. He lives nearby and has a carpentry workshop with a large generator.
Electricity is vital and every kind of work depends on it. We’re suffering, just like everyone else in Gaza. We have to use primitive sources of light, such as candles, kerosene lamps or smaller lamps. My wife and I do all the chores, and sometimes she has to wash the clothes by hand. I’m in charge of the electric water pump. When I’m out, I keep calling home to check if the power’s come on so I can get back and turn on the pump.
The electricity crisis lasts all year round, rain or shine. In winter, when the power’s off all day, we sometimes have to heat the house with coal stoves. In summer it’s even worse, because it’s so hot. We usually have electricity for six hours, and then there’s a 12-hour break. The fruit, vegetables and meat in the fridge go off quickly. You can’t turn on fans and it’s hard to sleep at night. My little grandchildren cry because of the heat. We’ve been living this way, under the blockade, for 14 years and it’s really bad.
I pray to heaven for help. Our lives are full of anguish and despair, and we want a change. We’re denied the most basic rights. The electricity problems are our biggest difficulty. I hope this nightmare ends.
In a testimony he gave B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 23 August 2020, Yihya Sultan (62) a pensioner and married father of seven from a-Nuseirat Refugee Camp, related:
I live on the seventh floor of an apartment building with my wife and four of our children, who are unmarried. Two of them are university students. We’ve been suffering power cuts for many years. We used to get eight hours of electricity, followed by eight hours off and then eight hours on again. Now, in summer and winter, the cuts are longer, and sometimes last up to 12 hours.
My apartment building has two elevators. When the power goes off, I’m stuck at home. I have a lot of health problems – diabetes, a heart condition and high blood pressure – and can’t take the stairs. Sometimes, if the power comes on in the middle of the night, I’m stuck at home for more than two days, even if there are things I have to do outside. I cancel or postpone them until the power comes back on and I can use the elevator.
I pay for electricity twice: to the electric company and to a man who owns a generator. I owe the electric company about 27,000 shekels (~ 8,000 USD). I currently pay for regular use and another 100 shekels (~30 USD) for accumulated debt. I also pay a neighbor who owns a generator at least 100 shekels a month for electricity. That’s enough for lights and two fans, but not for the refrigerator or the computer.
When the generator goes off, we use a chargeable LED lamp that barely lasts for two hours, and then we use the flashlights on our phones to get around the house.
My kids who are at university are currently at home and can’t attend classes, because I can’t afford their tuition. My daughter Salsabil (23) is studying mathematics. A few months ago, she was in the middle of an online exam when the power went off. She became hysterical and started crying, but then she changed clothes quickly, ran to my brother’s house in the opposite building and continued the exam there.
Because Israel closed the crossings through which fuel is brought into Gaza, the power cuts now last up to 20 hours and we only get electricity for four hours a day. Sometimes, those four hours are late at night when we’re asleep, and we can’t make any use of them. The water containers on our roof are only enough for two days. There are large containers by our building and when the power’s on, we have to pump enough water to the roof, otherwise we’ll be stuck without running water. Yesterday, the power came on in the afternoon and I was afraid to go to prayers at the mosque, right next door, and get stuck without the elevator to get back.
The power cuts have also hurt our social life. We’re virtually isolated. Whenever our children and relatives want to visit, they call first to ask if the electricity is on. Now, with only four hours a day, they don’t visit at all. I spend most of my time at home and use the internet whenever possible. Our normal life has been taken from away us along with the electricity.
In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 21 August 2020, In’am a-Sultan (48), a divorced mother of five from Jabalya, related:
I have five children. I’ve been living with them on the seventh floor of an eight-story apartment building for about 14 years. There are 28 apartments, and all the tenants have suffered from the electricity crisis since Israel started its blockade on Gaza. We can’t afford a generator and the elevator only works when the power is on.
I’m in very poor health. I have high blood pressure, a slipped disc in the fifth and seventh vertebrae, a heart condition and a cartilage problem in my right knee. I can’t go down the stairs so when the power’s out, I can’t leave the house. When there’s a steady supply, eight hours on and eight hours off, it’s better because at least I can plan.
If the power comes on early in the morning, I go out to visit my mother, buy her groceries, help her and buy our own groceries. Many friends and relatives can’t visit us because the elevator doesn’t work and it’s hard to climb the stairs. Once, my mother was visiting and got stuck at our place until the next day because there was no electricity.
Now the electricity crisis is even worse, because the power plant stopped working about a week ago. Since then, we’ve only had power three or four hours a day, with about 18 hours off. It’s a real disaster for me.
I don’t leave the house at all unless I have to do something very urgent. It takes me more than 15 minutes to climb the stairs and a long time to go down. I stop to rest a few times because it’s so tiring.
Sometimes, the power comes on at night, say 11:00 P.M., when I’m asleep. By the time I wake up in the morning, it’s off and I’ve missed it. If I have no choice, I stay awake to do household chores that depend on electricity, such as laundry, baking bread, ironing, and charging flashlights and cellphones. Our whole routine revolves around the supply hours. It’s exhausting.
I make about 100 dinars (~140 USD) a month, so I can’t buy a small generator for the house or set up a solar system to generate electricity. When the power’s off and I can't turn the fan on at night, the heat keeps me awake. Sometimes, my daughter Ahlam and I sleep on the floor. When the power only comes on briefly, I don’t have time to fully charge the LED flashlight batteries and they only last for two or three hours. Last night, we were left in the dark. Things are so bad that I’m considering using candles, even though it’s dangerous.