Gaza’s electricity supply hits all-time low

A sign warns of the danger of fishing or swimming at a Gaza beach. Israel’s electricity cuts to the territory mean the sea is polluted by huge volumes of untreated sewage.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Egypt delivered fuel to the occupied Gaza Strip on Monday.

This will allow a second turbine to run at the territory’s power plant, providing some marginal relief to 2 million Palestinians in Gaza who are receiving at most five hours of electricity per day amid sweltering summer temperatures.

The delivery comes after a weekend in which Gaza’s electricity supply dropped to an all-time low, according to Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that monitors Israel’s decade-long blockade of the coastal strip.

The delivery had been delayed for several days, after the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah reportedly tried to block payments for the fuel.

Gaza has been chronically short of electricity for years. It needs about 400-500 megawatts per day, but most of the time has had only about half of that.

According to Gisha, the supply has now plunged to just 90 megawatts – about a fifth of the daily requirement.

Israel sharply reduced its supply of electricity to Gaza last month, after the Palestinian Authority said it would no longer pay the full bill for the power.

This is part of a series of tactics by Abbas’ PA to wrest control of the interior of Gaza from rival Hamas by inflicting additional suffering on the population.

“Dark times”

The PA campaign has been escalating since April, leading the International Committee of the Red Cross to warn that Gaza faces systemic collapse as hospitals, water and sanitation systems lack power.

But human rights groups have emphasized that regardless of any dispute among Palestinian parties, Israel’s electricity cuts are illegal because, as the occupying power, Israel remains fully responsible under international law for the welfare of Gaza’s population.

Half of Gaza’s beaches – one of the few outlets for relief and recreation in the territory – are now unfit for swimming.

Last week, Israel had to shut several beaches near its boundary with Gaza because of pollution caused by sewage flowing into the sea from a Gaza treatment plant that shut down due to lack of power.

In a series of tweets, Gaza blogger Omar Ghraieb has been describing the worsening conditions for residents:

Compounding the crisis caused by Israel’s reduction of electricity, last Friday electricity lines carrying power from Egypt in the south of Gaza were destroyed when violence broke out on the Egyptian side of the border.

While Hamas has been unable to pay Egypt for fuel since the Palestinian Authority blocked its access to its bank accounts, Egyptian and Hamas authorities have announced they are exploring “alternative methods” of payment.

On Sunday, Abbas met Abdulfattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian general who has been running the country since he led a military coup in 2013.

During the meeting in Cairo, al-Sisi reportedly reiterated his support for Abbas and his team as “the legitimate Palestinian leadership.”

Abbas was elected as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, but since 2009 he has maintained his position through presidential decree, with no electoral mandate.

But Monday’s fuel delivery will likely disappoint Abbas.

“Product of policy”

The events over the weekend highlight the rival Palestinian leaderships’ dueling attempts to court Egypt’s favor.

Al-Sisi has helped enforce the Israeli blockade of Gaza since seizing power in 2013. But Hamas’ recent reconciliation with Muhammad Dahlan, a former bitter enemy of Hamas who is nonetheless close to Cairo, is seen as part of the group’s effort to break out of the tightening siege imposed by Israel and Abbas.

Last month, after Dahlan and Hamas authorities met in Cairo, Egypt delivered over a million liters of diesel fuel for Gaza’s power station.

In the meantime, Gaza’s dire electricity situation is putting the lives of its residents at ever greater risk.

“The electricity crisis in Gaza is the product of policy, not natural disaster,” says Gisha.

“Israel, the PA, the government in Gaza, Egypt, and the international community must cooperate in finding a solution. The lives of residents must be protected, regardless of political disputes.”

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.