Israel has restored supplies of electricity it sells to the Gaza Strip which it cut in June, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis.
Israel says Gaza won’t get more power without progress on the release of Israelis detained in Gaza – a use of basic humanitarian needs as bargaining chips in gross violation of international law.
On Monday, Israel began supplying 120 megawatts to Gaza, which means that Gaza’s two million residents may now receive up to six hours of electricity per day, followed by an outage of 12 hours.
This came after the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas asked Israel to restore the supply amid a faltering reconciliation deal with rival Hamas, which has ruled in Gaza over the last decade.
Five of The Electronic Intifada’s contributors in different parts of Gaza said they had noticed slight to modest improvements in the situation since Monday.
Rami Almeghari, who lives in central Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, said that the connection time had risen to six to eight hours, compared with two to four previously.
Hamza Abu Eltarabesh, who lives in western Gaza City, observed, “The change is very slight. In fact we didn’t feel it.”
Any increase marks an improvement only by the dire standards of Gaza.
“Even under ‘ordinary’ conditions, for years the amount of electricity available to Gaza residents has only met about half of actual demand,” according to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors the siege of Gaza.
Gisha notes that Gaza’s sole power plant relies on fuel purchased from either Israel or Egypt and that additional electricity supplied over lines from Egypt “has been sporadic due to unstable security conditions in the region.”
That “ordinary” situation got considerably worse last year, after Abbas and Israel implemented a series of punitive measures aimed at forcing Hamas to give up power in Gaza.
In mid-April Gaza’s power plant stopped functioning after emergency fuel supplies funded by Turkey and Qatar ran out and a dispute over charges between the PA and Hamas meant that no more fuel was being purchased.
Within weeks, the Red Cross warned that Gaza’s health system was on the brink of “systemic collapse.”
In June, Israel tightened the noose by sharply cutting the electricity it supplies to Gaza at the request of Abbas’ authority from 120 megawatts to just 70.
Hospitals postponed surgeries because they could not keep the power on long enough to run life support equipment.
Rights groups said that even if the cuts had been requested by the PA, Israel, as the occupying power, could not wash its hands of the situation.
“Israel controls the borders, the airspace, the waters of Gaza, so Israel has an obligation that goes beyond merely responding to a request from Palestinian authorities,” Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir stated.
Sixteen human rights organizations wrote to Israel’s attorney general denouncing the cuts as a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
Given the silence and complicity of the so-called international community when Israel implemented the cuts in June, it is no surprise now that Israel – assured of impunity – continues to violate its legal responsibilities.
COGAT – the bureaucratic enforcement arm of Israel’s military occupation, which tries to brand itself as a “humanitarian” body – is attempting to blackmail the civilian population in Gaza over further electricity supplies.
In a statement Monday, COGAT said Israel had agreed to restore the 120 megawatts it was supplying before June, which the PA would have to pay for, but that “humanitarian issues are not one sided.”
COGAT said that Israel would not consider selling an additional 100 megawatts “before humanitarian issues such as the return of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and the return of additional Israeli citizens held in Gaza are discussed.”
The Fourth Geneva Convention requires Israel to use “the fullest extent of the means available to it” to ensure supplies of food and medical services, and to maintain public health and hygiene in the occupied territory. These are services for which an adequate supply of electricity is absolutely essential.
The International Committee of the Red Cross already stated in 2010 that Israel’s blockade of Gaza that began a decade ago “constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law” and that the “whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.”
The family of Hadar Goldin, an Israeli occupation soldier who went missing during Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza, slammed the Israeli government for increasing the electricity supply to Gaza at all. The family remains determined that two million people – half of them children – should be made to suffer until they learn news of their son’s fate.
Following Goldin’s disappearance, the Israeli army went on a three-day killing spree in Gaza that left 225 Palestinians dead and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.
COGAT even supplied a quote from Leah Goldin, the missing soldier’s mother, stating that “every mother wants to visit her son’s grave and the inability to return Hadar Goldin for his burial is considered a crime in Islam.”
Neither she nor Israeli occupation officials at COGAT noted the irony – not to say the sheer hypocrisy of such a statement – given that Israel systematically withholds the bodies of Palestinians killed by its forces, often in suspected extrajudicial executions, a policy that human rights defenders denounce as a “severe violation of international law.”
Israel has withheld some bodies for decades, burying them in its so-called “cemetery of numbers” where families cannot visit to mourn their loved ones.
In November, Israel seized the bodies of five fighters from the resistance group Islamic Jihad killed in the detonation of a tunnel along the Gaza-Israel boundary.
According to human rights defenders, Israel is illegally using the bodies as bargaining chips.
While Palestinians in Gaza will welcome any easing of the electricity siege, the situation remains dire despite Monday’s increase in supply.
As 2018 started, the World Health Organization said that Gaza’s health system remained “on the edge of collapse.”