Gaza Strip 31 August 2006
As I walked into one of the largest food processing plants in the central Gaza Strip, the first thing I noticed were two workers sitting idle in the ice-cream production area of the plant. I arrived during working hours, but all the machines were completely stopped. The factory was silent, the silence was overwhelming.
The workers, Ibrahim and Hassan, were sitting idle in a corner - not because there is no desire in Gaza for ice cream, but because the Al-Awda factory, for which both workers work, is no longer able to produce ice cream, due to the electricity outages in the Gaza Strip.
Al-Awda’s owner, businessman Mohammad Altelbani, from Deir Al-Balah city in central Gaza, says that shops and groceries this summer have stopped purchasing ice-cream products due to their inability to maintain refrigeration necessary for frozen products. With frequent electricity outages, keeping ice cream frozen is virtually impossible.
At any rate, Palestinians in Gaza, who have become used to seeing blood and destruction in the streets over the past two months, can certainly live without ice-cream for the rest of such a “rainy summer” (referring the name of the ongoing Israeli military invasion of Gaza is known as “Operation Summer Rains”).
“We lose $1000 every day. You know why? Because of the power outage, we’re depending on benzene gas-powered electricity generators. That, in addition to the breaking down of electronic components of the factory when the power surges or goes out, have made manufacturing impossible”, Mr. Altelbani, the factory owner, points out.
“You see, the price of each pack of such products [cookies], has increased by 1.5 shekels [$.30], at a time when people are facing very harsh economic conditions. But we can’t lower the prices, because the cost of production has increased so much due to the electricity cuts throughout Gaza”, Altelbani explains.
In hospitals, another casualty of the electricity cuts can be seen: patients in need of surgery are lying in wait, unable to be treated, in rooms that have reached extreme summer temperatures with no air conditioning and in many cases, not even fans. Surgery has been decreased to a minimum due to the electricity cuts, says Dr. Jom’a Alsaqa, spokesman of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip.
“We have been forced to cancel 200 surgeries daily. We are currently conducting only emergency surgeries. The temperature in the hospital’s rooms and departments is very high, also due to electricity cuts”, Alsaqa indicates.
In the Gaza Strip Electricity Distribution Company, Jamal Aldardasawi, the company’s media officer, tells me, “Prior to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza’s main power plant on June 26th, the plant used to provide about 50 percent of Gaza’s electricity. Currently, we are having to rely on the Israeli side’s electricity supply, which is extremely sporadic and limited”.
“The electricity problem is still persistent; therefore, we have contacted our brothers in Egypt, to achieve past and current dreams to connect Gaza’s power network with the Egyptian one”, he says.
“As part of this plan, the company is attempting to at least connect the most-damaged area of Rafah in southern Gaza with the Egyptian power network. Rafah is much more traumatized than other areas as far as the electricity is concerned. However, nothing has been achieved so far”, Aldardasawi maintains.
“We appeal to all parties concerned, including the United Nations, the Quartet Committee for Middle East peace (United Nations, United States, European Union, Russia), to intervene to solve this problem, as our current power network continues to be targeted daily by the Israeli army in different areas of the Gaza Strip like Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia”, he concluded.
Regarding the attempts to network electricity with Egypt, Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghazi Hammad said, “We have made good contacts with the Egyptian side to import power transformers, but the main obstacle that prevents this is the Israeli control over our borders”.
According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, more than 200,000 Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip have been suffering from power outages for 16 hours a day, while 88,000 others, who live in high rises, are deprived of potable water, which is power-pumped.
On the eve of its massive military attack on the Gaza Strip on June 26th, Israeli warplanes bombed the power transformers of Gaza’s main power plant in central Gaza. The attack was an apparent ‘punishment’ for all Palestinians in Gaza for the capture of an Israeli soldier held by Palestinian resistance factions after an unprecedented resistance attack on an army base on June 25th.
Rami Elmeghari is a freelance journalist and translator in the Gaza Strip