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Power Cuts in the Gaza Strip, a Humanitarian Crisis

As the Gaza Strip moves even more rapidly than predicted toward becoming uninhabitable, its two million residents face an escalating humanitarian crisis.

Mira Craig-Morse

July 14, 2017
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Image of Palestinians walking on a street at the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City during a power outage on June 11, 2017 from AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams.

As the Gaza Strip moves even more rapidly than predicted toward becoming uninhabitable (which the U.N. predicts will be in 2020), its two million residents face an escalating humanitarian crisis [1]. The Israeli government continues to increase power cuts to the territory, at the request of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority (PA), the authority in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, under President Mahmoud Abbas, seeks to force Hamas out of the Gaza Strip after they took control of the territory from the PA in 2007 [2]. The reduction of electricity, which is supplied by the Israeli government and paid for by the Palestinian Authority, began last month and has reduced the power in Gaza, according to Israeli NGO Gisha, down to 90 megawatts per day, around one fifth of the demand. Gazans receive roughly two to four hours of electricity per day, often coming in the middle of the night, forcing Palestinians to wake up at odd hours to wash clothes and charge devices [3].

The rhetorical defense against what increasingly appears to be a brutal and life-threatening collective punishment of a population which has faced several sieges, as well as over ten years of a joint blockade by Egypt and Israel, is that power supplied by Egypt makes up for the power cuts — a claim which is false. The single power plant in southern Gaza, which is supplied by Egypt and purchased by the Hamas authority, was out of commission from April until roughly a month ago due to blockages of financial transactions from Hamas bank accounts by the Palestinian Authority. A reduced supply of diesel began again briefly, halting again on July 7th when fighting between Egyptian militants and the Egyptian military across the border damaged supply lines, limiting the supply to around 23 megawatts daily, out of the required 430 megawatts, according to Gisha. There appears to be no effort or timeline to repair the damaged lines [4]. On July 12th, the plant ceased production completely due to a lack of fuel [5].

Knowing who is to blame in limiting the flow of power and resources to Gaza is difficult: the Israeli occupation and control of Gazan land, sea and air, including the movement of Gazans themselves is one culprit. Gaza faces unique challenges due to a ten year blockade, occupation, and the near constant violence against its population and infrastructure by the Israeli state. Since the 1948 partition of Palestine which created the State of Israel, Gaza has been under near constant attack. Due to the overcrowding of the growing Palestinian population in the space of little over two Washington D.C.’s (CIA Factbook) each military operation by the Israeli Defense Force results in heavy casualties on the Palestinian side, with a majority of deaths being of innocent civilians. In Operation Cast Lead in 2008, 1,400 Palestinians were killed while 13 Israelis died from Hamas rocket attacks [6]. More attacks killed Palestinian militants and innocent civilians alike in 2012, and in Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the Palestinian death toll was 2,100 compared to the 73 Israeli deaths [7]. Add an extreme shortage of supplies and electricity and you have a territory unable to rebuild, unable to heal and soon unable to support human life.

According to the World Bank Report, the Gaza Strip has the highest unemployment rate in the world, at around 43% with 60% unemployment among youth [8]. Israeli airstrikes in the Strip, most recently in February 2017, not only result in heavy casualties among innocent civilians, but also destruction of vital structures, including hospitals and schools. President Abbas is also being blamed for the extreme backlog of applications for medical treatment outside of Gaza, a process that can take months or years, even with consideration of the urgency of treatment (The Guardian).

While power shortages greatly impact many crucial services, the healthcare system in Gaza faces a much greater problem with budget cuts imposed by the Palestinian Authority in recent months. According to Physicians for Human Rights Israel, the PA reduced the monthly budget for Gazan healthcare from $4 million to $2.3 million in April. By May, the cuts brought the budget down to $500,000. The primary victims of budget cuts, according to Ma’an News, are cancer patients, infants with developmental deficits and patients with cystic fibrosis, who are currently unable to receive necessary treatment and medication. For patients with cystic fibrosis, substitute medication from the struggling hospitals has reportedly only worsened their medical conditions [9].

The occupation and persistent violation of the lives and human rights of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is one of the worst crimes of the past fifty years. Bombs, incarceration and blockades preventing the access to basic necessities for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip is an act of terror that Americans directly support through billions of dollars in financial and military aid [10]. But the current crisis facing Gaza is exacerbated by the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. While Palestinians in both occupied territories face great challenges in the Israeli occupation, Abbas betrays his fellow Palestinians: instead of uniting and leading Palestinians against their collective oppression, he works alongside the Israeli government to deprive them of their basic needs.

Palestinians and external observers alike are confounded by the decision of Abbas to punish 2 million Palestinians for a Hamas takeover that occurred ten years ago. Since 2006 Hamas has continued to win the support of the majority of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, who rejected the PA due to their weak stance against the encroachment and abuse of the Israeli state. Now the PA is punishing Palestinians in the Strip for choosing a leadership that, unlike the PA, resists the oppressive force that is effectively ethnically cleansing their homeland [11,12]. In the end, however, as The Guardian reported, it is not Hamas officials who suffer under the power shortage or the lack of medical care, it is the impoverished majority who now have even less agency over their own lives.

The blockade against Gaza and the power cuts must end now, as well as the budget cuts to the healthcare system. The collective punishment of 2 million civilians is no way to fight a modern political war.

Notes

1. Kennedy, Merrit. “U.N. Says Gaza Is ‘De-Developing’ Even Faster Than Expected.” NPR. NPR, 11 July 2017.
2. Black, Ian, and Mark Tran. “Hamas Takes Control of Gaza.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 15 June 2007.
3. Beaumont, Peter. “Gaza Electricity Crisis: ‘It Is the Worst I Can Remember – but We Expect It to Get Worse’.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 July 2017.
4. “Egyptian Fuel Deliveries Resume to Gaza Power Plant as Power Lines Remain Damaged.” Maan News Agency. N.p., 10 July 2017.
5. “Gaza’s Last Power Plant Just Shut Down, Plunging the Strip into Darkness.” Haaretz. N.p., 13 July 2017.
6. “Timeline: Israel – Gaza Conflict.” Middle East Eye. N.p., 08 July 2014. Web.
7. “Gaza Crisis: Toll of Operations in Gaza.” BBC News. BBC, 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 12 July 2017.
8. Goldman, Paul, and Wajjeh Abu Zarifa. “Gaza Has Highest Unemployment Rate: World Bank Report.”NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 27 May 2015.
9. “Children with Cystic Fibrosis in Gaza in.” Maan News Agency. N.p., 09 July 2017.
10. Al Jazeera. “US and Israel Sign Record $38bn Military Aid Deal.” News from Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, 15 Sept. 2016.
11. Sheizaf, Noam. “Why Do Palestinians Continue to Support Hamas despite Such Devastating Losses?” +972 Magazine. N.p., 22 July 2014.
12. Chomsky, Noam, and Ilan Pappé. On Palestine. London: Penguin, 2015. Print.
13. “Physicians for Human Rights Israel.” Physicians for Human Rights Israel. N.p., n.d.

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