Friday, November 24, 2017

Gazas electricity crisis leaves "no household untouched"


By Ayesha Khan - June 21, 2017
TAGS:
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Gaza] [Health Care] [Hamas] [Palestinian Authority]

Plans for a 40 percent reduction in electricity supply for the Gaza Strip were approved by the Israeli security cabinet, which is worsening the existing humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory. As a result, Gazans will have their access to electricity reduced to only two to three hours per day.
 
On Monday, Israel’s national electricity company released a statement that confirmed its gradual reduction in shipments "so that the electricity supply will match the financial commitment."
 
The electricity supply cuts were requested by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) as a political tactic to put pressure on Hamas, which de-facto rules the Gaza Strip. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the agency designated for executing and monitoring Israeli policies in the occupied territories of West Bank and the Gaza Strip, alleges the Hamas government has been using taxes collected from Gazans “to dig tunnels and for the advantage of Hamas.”
 
An Israeli official told Haaretz that it was the Israeli army’s “recommendation against leniency toward Hamas and to act in accordance with” Abbas’ request that led to this decision.
 
Fathi Sheikh Khalil, head of Hamas' energy authority in Gaza, said in a press conference that despite holding meetings with the PA and Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, the attempts at negotiation had no effect on changing the PA’s decision. This rift between the two political factions can be attributed to violent clashes that occurred when Hamas came to power in 2006 after the general elections that took place in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.
 
The Fatah-led PA pays Israel for the electricity supply in the Gaza Strip, which totals about 40 million shekels ($11.19) in monthly bills - the amount is subtracted from taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the PA. In addition, 7 million shekels (about $1.91 million) is given to Egypt for their electricity supply, as well.
 
Hence, Israel provides 125 megawatts of power to the 2 million population in the Gaza Strip. This amounts to only 30 percent of the actual overall need of about 350 to 450 megawatts of electricity that is required to be able to sustain liveable conditions for Gazans, who are normally on a schedule of eight hours off and eight hours on. Human rights groups have called this use of infrastructural and social well-being of civilians residing in the coastal enclave as an opportunity to exert leverage “collective punishment or an illegal reprisal against the civilian population.”
 
A statement released by Hamas said: "[t]he decision of the Israeli occupation to reduce electricity being fed to the Gaza Strip at the request of the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, is a catastrophic and dangerous decision which will further deteriorate the already diminishing humanitarian situation in Gaza." It added, "[t]he Israeli Occupation and the Palestinian Authority, who have been collaborating with each other to achieve Israel’s agenda of liquidating the Palestinian cause, will solely bear the consequences of this decision."
 
The first notification on plans to cut electricity supply for Gazans happened on April 27th, when the PA informed Israel that it will no longer be funding the bill for electricity in the Gaza Strip, “effective immediately.”
 
The electricity supply was reduced by 8 megawatt-hours on Tuesday, as stated on the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority’s website. Although, according to reports, Egypt plans to sell over 500 tons of fuel per day, which is to be importedE through the Rafah border, to help revitalize Gaza’s only power plant that was shut down in April amid a dispute between the PA government and Hamas on tax imposed by the PA on diesel fuel.
 
The sole power plant that has been inoperative since middle of April and will be operative with Egypt's fuel.
 
Previously, Egypt had offered to increase its electricity supply quota during the crisis, under the condition that Hamas hand over civilians, who are “wanted terrorists.” Details regarding the financial and political negotiations that took place between Hamas and Egypt to reach the aforementioned deal have not yet been revealed.  
 
Gazans have previously been coping with electricity shortages by relying on generators and utilizing rechargeable electrical appliances less frequently to save battery power. In addition, without sufficient electricity supply, the sewage plant in Gaza can no longer operate, adding to the 90 million liters of raw sewage released out into the Mediterranean Sea daily.
 
The Health Ministry in Gaza revealed last week that the medical sector currently relies heavily on 87 power generators that operate during the hours of the day when electricity is not available. These cuts will have significant consequences for the population - out of which infants, and patients with terminal illnesses and in critical-care are already suffering due to electricity shortages.
 
Robert Piper, Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, released a statement that concluded, “citizens are paying the highest price during this crisis. No household in Gaza is untouched, but the situation of patients on dialysis, disabled persons living in apartment buildings without reliable elevators or water supply and the elderly is especially precarious.” He added, “I urge all parties to come together to reverse the current trajectory towards another major humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
 
In the past, aid from Qatar was a possibility, but the recent political pressure from Saudi Arabia, with support from the United States and Israel, have made Qatar’s relationship with Hamas a point of contention.
 
Human rights group B'Tselem pointed out that Israel holds power over infrastructural policies and decisions, hence bearing the obligation for resolving this humanitarian crisis. According to the organisation, “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.” 

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