Fuel crisis as Egypt closes Gaza tunnels

Palestinian girls celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Gaza, as the month of Ramadan draws to a close.

Ashraf Amra APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript: Rami Almeghari on Egypt’s closures of Gaza crossing, tunnels

The Electronic Intifada: Can you talk about the last month in Gaza, during Ramadan, as Egypt’s army has closed many of the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, and the impact that this has had on Palestinians especially in the last week?

Rami Almeghari: According to my own observations, not only as a journalist in Gaza, but also as an ordinary Palestinian living in this coastal enclave, for years, decades now, the last month has been difficult for the population of the Gaza Strip simply because of the scarcity and the shortfall of some goods and basic commodities, because of the shut-down of the tunnels.

These goods and commodities include the fuel which has been brought into Gaza through the underground tunnels, and been sold for good prices for the population. The fuel prices have gotten very high, also the people had to wait during very critical hours of their fasting day, they had to wait in long queues with their cars, waiting for the fuel to be filled in their cars. And also after the fasting day — for example, myself, I had to spend about 4-5 hours … I’d like to tell you a story about this, actually. I had to bring my kids with me in the car, and I wanted to stop at the gas station nearby to get my share of the scarce Egyptian benzene. And I expected to have it in maximum thirty minutes.

But unfortunately, I had to stay about five hours waiting in the queue since the evening, before the start of nightfall, until about 2 in the morning. The kids slept in the car, and it was a very tough moment for me, which I took very patiently and tolerantly. Only because I am a Palestinian living in such a very bad, worse condition in this part of the world.

This is an example of me. And I just told myself I had to stop such a mess — it’s really a mess. It’s inhuman. So what I want to tell you is that I turned to Israeli benzene. Which is being brought from the Israeli crossing, mainly from Kerem Shalom, which is being brought into Gaza in limited quantities. But I had to manage. I had to run my car less than usual, to use some Israeli benzene which is really expensive — one liter of benzene costs about $2, which is in Gaza, not in the United States. It’s double the price of the Egyptian-smuggled fuel, which has been facilitated by the Egyptians at the crossing.

But since the Egyptians have begun shutting down the tunnels, the people of Gaza have had many difficulties getting essential commodities, fuel not only for the cars, but also for the power generators that run in the Gaza Strip.

I would like to tell you a very interesting thing — since the fuel has been lacking here for the past month, many households in Gaza stopped functioning their own power generators because of the inflated prices. Not all of the people are journalists, not all of the people are doctors, not all of the people are physicians, not all of the people are professionals. We have ordinary people. It’s a population of refugees, living in very densely-populated refugee camps.

So the situation is very bad economically. About 65 percent of the people are under the poverty line — this is an estimation of the situation. More than 32 percent are unemployed or jobless — that is really the situation. The people cannot afford some sort of inflated prices.

This is one of the examples myself, I have touched. Another example which is related to the inflated prices of the goods in the Gaza Strip: many of the goods have been stockpiled in Gaza, Egyptian-brought, from the Egyptian tunnels, the underground tunnels. These goods, the foodstuffs, and other things that are very basic and essential, have had very inflated prices as well. So everything is getting higher in price because of the shut-down of the tunnels. This is the impact of the situation in Egypt on the Gaza Strip.

And I’d like to tell you that since then, there has been very little goods and commodities. I can confirm to you that it’s not only fuel, it’s very little goods and commodities to the extent that goods that already exist in the stores in Gaza have been purchased by people at already-inflated prices. So this is double the suffering of the population from an economic perspective.

EI: Rami, despite the restrictions, despite the closure of the tunnels, and despite the scarcity of the goods on shelves in shops and markets in Gaza, how have people been celebrating especially the last few days, during the end of the month of Ramadan? Talk about what you’ve been doing with your family, how people are celebrating.

RA: That’s what I was about to tell you. Because in the past few days, my family, my children — like many children of the Gaza Strip, they’re all quite similar in terms of their wish and interest to celebrate or mark the celebration of Eid which comes right after the end of the Ramadan month. I had to take my children to the market for Eid, for marking the Eid occasion. This really has surprised me: as I entered the shops with my kids, trying to choose for them, to select some good clothes for them, I discovered that the clothes that exist in the shops are those from the past — before the latest restrictions on the border between Egypt and Gaza.

And nothing is new. Even though the prices of these clothes are very high and unaffordable, to the extent that I was, myself, confused as to whether I can afford this or can’t afford that. That’s what the situation was — when I was entering the shops in southern Gaza, trying to get some clothes for my children.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).