The Gaza Strip’s healthcare system is failing amid an ongoing electricity crisis that has seen the territory’s two million people forced to cope with just a few hours of power a day amid sweltering summer temperatures.
In June, Israel began sharply reducing the electricity supply to Gaza – a step human rights groups said was illegal, since Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible for the welfare of the civilian population.
This came after the Palestinian Authority drastically reduced electricity payments to Israel, as part of its effort to squeeze Hamas, the political movement that is the de facto government in Gaza.
Gaza’s power has in the past months dropped from eight hours a day to just three or four, with periods when it has fallen even lower.
Three months prior to that, the PA began restricting transfers of vital medicine to Gaza, according to health authorities in the territory.
Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry, told Reuters the PA reduced shipments of medicine for cancer and cystic fibrosis by 35 percent in March.
The shortage of power and medicine is taking its toll on the most vulnerable people.
Health officials estimate that 320 people in Gaza have cystic fibrosis, an incurable inherited lung disease that is life threatening without specific medicine and regular hospital treatments.
In addition to being short of vital medicines, Gaza’s hospitals are now nearly completely dependent on backup generators that regularly malfunction, causing interruptions to treatments.
Last week, al-Qidra stated that in recent weeks, 16 Palestinians in Gaza had died, because Israel and the Palestinian Authority obstructed their transfers to hospitals outside Gaza for urgent medical treatment.
Dialysis treatments disrupted
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported this month that power cuts have also compromised dialysis – another life-saving treatment to clean the blood of patients suffering from kidney failure.
Dialysis machines to which patients must be connected for several hours at a time cannot operate properly with the constant interruptions in the electricity supply.
As a result, blood is left in the machines, which can cause a shortage of blood and other health complications that can be fatal.
“I had a patient whose treatment was interrupted for three hours because the generator had no fuel and the blood started to clot and the patient needed a blood transfer,” Dr. Muhammad Shatat, the head of dialysis at al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s largest, told PCHR.
“If this would happen on a regular basis, the patient would die after two or three days.”
Al-Shifa is the only facility that offers dialysis, forcing residents in the north and south of Gaza to make lengthy journeys to receive treatments that may not be successful.
In 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would be “unlivable” by 2020. But in another report released earlier this month, the UN said the deterioration has accelerated “further and faster” than anticipated.
It noted the shortcomings of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism and Israel’s refusal to allow necessary material and equipment to complete reconstruction after the massive destruction of Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014.
Last year, The Electronic Intifada exclusively published the detailed terms of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, along with a confidential legal analysis that had been prepared for top UN officials.
The leaked analysis said that the UN-brokered scheme violated international law, including the very right to life of Palestinians, because it tightened Israel’s control over vital construction materials entering Gaza.
Holding reconstruction hostage
Last week, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, admitted that his country was deliberately holding reconstruction materials back from Gaza.
Rivlin said the return of missing Israelis and the remains of Israeli soldiers was a precondition for reconstruction.
“The rebuilding of Gaza requires the return of our sons and the cessation of all hostilities with Israel,” Rivlin said at a ceremony marking the third anniversary of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza that left more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children, dead and caused massive devastation to civilian homes and infrastructure.
Riving said that as long as Hamas, which he termed “a brutal and murderous organization,” runs the territory, “Gaza will not be rehabilitated.”
Hamas holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who took part in the 2014 invasion and is believed to be detaining three Israeli civilians.
They are Avera Mengistu, 30, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent; Hisham al-Sayed, a 29-year-old from a Bedouin village in Israel, who has several psychiatric and medical disorders; and Jumaa Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, 20, whose presence in Gaza has not been confirmed.
A day before Rivlin’s speech, Ma’an News Agency reported that Egypt was trying to mediate indirect talks between Israel and Hamas to facilitate a prisoner exchange.
According to Ma’an, Hamas has been asked to supply a video proving it is holding the Israelis.
In exchange for the Israelis, Hamas is demanding that Israel release Palestinian prisoners who were originally freed in a 2011 prisoner exchange but subsequently re-arrested.
Hamas is also demanding that Israel release all female prisoners, children and Palestinian Legislative Council members held by Israel.
There are currently 13 Palestinian legislators in Israeli prisons, most detained without charge or trial.