At the bus stop at Palestine Square, in the bustling heart of Gaza City, 25-year-old Said Ramadan cried to passersby, “Fuel, fuel, fuel! Come and buy!”
Last week Ramadan took advantage of the blasting through of the border wall between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and the brief respite from months of siege to travel to the nearby Egyptian town of al-Arish and stock up on gallons of fuel.
“Israel has prevented the entry of fuel to the area, so I took a chance and brought some quantities from al-Arish to help and be helped,” Ramadan said.
However, Ramadan and others who had the same idea last week now say that the prices do not meet the people’s purchasing power, as each liter of fuel costs more than one dollar.
Ahmad Aqel, also selling fuel in Gaza, explained, “I used to work as a taxi driver, but I decided to seize the opportunity of the border reopening to bring some gallons of fuel to sell here.”
Aqel and Ramadan’s current informal industry is a throwback to Gaza’s past, when street vendors selling kerosene provided fuel for refugees’ lamps during an era when gas stations were few and far between.
The not-exactly-nostalgic scene in Gaza is the result of Israel’s fuel cuts, part of the series of collective punishment measures it has imposed on Gaza’s 1.5 million residents since it declared the Strip an “enemy entity” last September, ostensibly in reaction to the firing of homemade rockets into southern Israel by Palestinian fighters.
Gaza’s long-suffering taxi drivers express resentment towards the still comparatively high cost of the fuel brought in from Egypt.
Driver Nidal Darabaih says that a 19-liter tank used to fill up for 90 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) ($25 USD) while these vendors’ rate is at 85 NIS, meaning that the bringing in of fuel from Egypt doesn’t necessarily mean taxi drivers are feeling any economic relief.
“I am really concerned about the lack of fuel, so on the one hand I want to keep some fuel to earn a living but on the other I can’t afford it. The quantities of fuel Israel recently allowed in have gone to hospitals or power generators at the various facilities,” Darabaih noted.
As of the beginning of this week, no more fuel will be entering Gaza, as the Egyptian authorities sealed off its border with Gaza, preventing the movement of Gazans into its territory.
Last Wednesday Israel’s highest court ruled that the fuel cuts to the Gaza Strip remain in effect. “Economic warfare” was how Israel’s defense ministry described its government’s Gaza policy in court proceedings.
The three-judge panel stated that “vital humanitarian needs” would be supplied but rejected a petition by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups arguing that the cuts amount to collective punishment, in contravention to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Society for Gas Stations, most of the quantities Israel allowed in last week went towards the operations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
The Israeli court’s verdict came on the heels of the UN Security Council’s failure to pass a non-binding resolution condemning Israel’s actions against Gaza as collective punishment.
A draft resolution was stymied by Israel’s staunch ally, the US, which deemed Israel’s actions to be self-defense rather than punitive measures.
Reflecting popular sentiment in Gaza, professor As’ad Abu Sharekh, a political analyst in Gaza City, said the policy will only “perpetuate violence in this part of the world,” and added that the decision “is not accepted by the Palestinian people, the Arab people, the world or by international law and I think Israel must be punished for making such a stupid decision against the Palestinian people.”
Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, aljazeerah.info, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.
All images by Rami Almeghari.